Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

May 8, 2014

Where must legislators draw the line on ethics?

Turner shows what's wrong with Statehouse

Conflicts of interest are so common, and so accepted, in the Indiana General Assembly that the most surprising thing about Rep. Eric Turner’s recent brush with questions of impropriety was that a House ethics committee actually was charged with investigating the case.

Of course, the ethics panel took all of two minutes, in a public hearing this past week, to discuss and then exonerate Turner of wrongdoing in his behind-the-scenes efforts to kill legislation that would have hurt his family’s business interests.

Case closed. Back to business as usual?

Let’s hope not.

Even the ethics committee, made up of fellow lawmakers, chided Turner in its report on the investigation for not achieving “the highest spirit of transparency” when he pushed in a closed-door meeting for other members of the House Republican caucus to kill a proposed moratorium on nursing home construction in Indiana. Turner and his family own companies that invest in and build nursing homes. The longtime Republican lawmaker from Cicero also did not reveal on his annual financial disclosure form all of his connections with companies associated with the nursing home industry.

In fairness to Turner, it must be hard for lawmakers to know where to draw the line, given everything else that is accepted.

For example, Rep. Matt Lehman is chairman of the House Insurance Committee. He is a partner in an insurance company in Allen County. Other members of his committee also work in the insurance industry, which means they routinely review and vote on bills that could affect their livelihood.

In the Senate, Travis Holdman leads the Committee on Financial Institutions, which regulates banks. Holdman owns a consulting firm that works in the banking industry, and, as The Star’s Matthew Tully documented last year, the senator also represents a financial services company as its national sales executive. As the committee chairman, Holdman has the power to decide which bills, including those that affect his clients’ interests, get a hearing and which are killed without committee review.

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