Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

April 29, 2014

TOM LoBIANCO: Indiana lawmakers struggle with ethics process, rules

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

(Continued)

Indiana is one of 17 states where lawmakers spend roughly half their time filling their public duties and the other half of the time pursuing private careers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The NCSL does not categorize legislative bodies as either part-time or full-time, but instead divides them on a scale based on the percent of time the lawmakers spend on their public duties and the number of staff working for them.

Vaughn said the Turner case is proof some outside oversight of lawmakers is needed. She recommended an independent ethics commission similar to what New Jersey operates. New Jersey, which operates more like a full-time legislature, according to the NCSL, maintains a joint legislative ethics committee with clear rules and powers set out in the law.

In Maryland, which has a part-time legislature similar in size and time demands to Indiana’s, lawmakers enacted their last major series of ethics reforms in 2002, after a lobbyist and state lawmaker were found guilty of defrauding lobbying clients. One answer approved by Maryland’s lawmakers was deeper, more thorough financial disclosure rules for lobbyists and their clients.

Indiana’s law regarding ethics for lawmakers itself appears somewhat conflicted. On one hand, it says lawmakers should not use their publicly elected office for direct personal gain. On the other, it says lawmakers should offer their specific expertise in debates.

Members of the ethics panel, including Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, and Kersey have expressed concerns about maintaining their part-time status and maintaining the privacy of their caucus meetings, where many key decisions are made.

“That’s part of what we have in a citizen legislature. Each one of us brings to the table a different expertise. So I think it’s important that everybody share those things,” Steuerwald said. “It will be a matter of trying to find a balance.”

Tom LoBianco covers Indiana politics for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter @tomlobianco.

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