Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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April 29, 2014

TOM LoBIANCO: Indiana lawmakers struggle with ethics process, rules

Some see need to maintain part-time status, caucus privacy

Throughout the House Ethics Committee’s meeting last week reviewing the actions of House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, Democrats and Republicans consistently noted the troubles they see in balancing the demands of a part-time legislature against the need for clear ethics rules.

Turner, the first lawmaker to be investigated by the group in close to two decades, is under review for his private lobbying against a proposed ban on the construction of new nursing homes. The ban would have cost him millions through his ownership in the nursing home developer Mainstreet Property Group.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show Turner owns 38 percent of the business through a separate company — enough to earn him well more than a million dollars each time a nursing home project is completed. Members of the ethics panel have not pressed Turner on the millions he had at stake, but instead have focused on whether he properly disclosed his financial interests in legislative forms.

The ethics panel reviewed written answers Turner submitted to them through his lawyer last week while Turner attended a meeting of the State Budget Committee. The ethics panel is scheduled to meet again Wednesday to make recommendations to House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

“There’s a lot of things we don’t know anything about, of course — what went on in caucus stays in caucus — as far as everything, he followed the rules,” said the ranking Democrat, Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute.

After the panel submits its recommendations to Bosma, its members will meet again through the summer to craft a new set of ethics rules for lawmakers. Ethics watchdogs are hoping lawmakers find a way to close some of the loopholes that allowed Turner to lobby in private.

“The best thing that we can get out of this is a beefed-up legislative ethics process that will put the public interest over personal political interest,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana and a lobbyist for ethics reform.

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