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Editorials

Lawmaker’s conflicts tarnish entire Indiana House

Turner

If it’s true that Rep. P. Eric Turner privately lobbied to kill a bill that would have hurt his son’s business, the Hamilton County Republican should be ashamed. But the shame should extend beyond the House speaker pro tem. The entire General Assembly – particularly its GOP super-majority – is tarnished by the clear appearance of backroom dealing and compromised ethics.

The Associated Press reports that Turner lobbied to kill Senate Bill 173, a moratorium on new nursing home beds. Turner’s son is chairman and CEO of Mainstreet Property Group, a Carmel-based developer of upscale nursing homes. His daughter, Jessaca Turner Stults, lobbies for the company, which the legislator co-founded.

Zeke Turner told the House Ways and Means Committee that the moratorium threatened two dozen skilled nursing properties his company planned to build over the next three years.

“If those can’t be done in Indiana, then we’ll just go elsewhere,” he said.

P. Eric Turner did not cast a vote in the Ways and Means Committee or in the full House, where the bill passed by a 55-40 vote. It was at a private caucus meeting where the lawmaker spoke passionately against the moratorium, reportedly arguing that nursing home development creates jobs and economic development.

Yes, new developments benefit construction workers and create jobs for nurses, aides and others. But Indiana has about 13,000 unoccupied nursing home beds. When new high-end nursing homes open, they draw wealthier patients away and leave Medicaid recipients in older facilities. Free-market arguments don’t hold true where government regulation is involved.

Sen. Patricia Miller, the Indianapolis Republican who authored SB 173, was right when she said that new nursing home beds would draw resources away from home-based care and other alternative settings that Hoosiers actually prefer.

But P. Eric Turner’s argument prevailed. The GOP House caucus members killed the provision before it became law.

Don’t expect Turner to show any remorse. He is no stranger to conflict-of-interest charges.

Last year Turner pushed a measure that would have allowed Utah-based Insure-Rite, one of his daughter’s lobbying clients, to win a multi-million dollar contract with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

In 2008, he fought to preserve a controversial call center created in his district as a part of the state’s failed welfare privatization scheme. The legislator was an investor when his son later bought the building housing the call center.

Other public officials recognize Turner’s clear conflicts. Gov. Mike Pence a year ago placed a hold on $345,000 in state economic aid to Mainstreet Property Group because of the legislator’s ties.

The best-case scenario would find voters rejecting Turner in either the May primary, where he faces a challenge from Parvin Gillim of Sheridan, or in November, when the District 32 nominee faces Democrat Bob Ashley.

But the damage to the public trust is done.

Turner might have toed the conflict-of-interest line just close enough to avoid breaking the law, but his efforts on behalf of his family’s business enterprises clearly constitute an abuse of power.

If Turner’s legislative colleagues believe his reputation is the only one harmed, they are mistaken. Hoosiers are left with the suggestion from this incident and others that backroom deals not only are tolerated but might even constitute standard operating procedure. Super-majority control by one party only adds to the appearance that the real business is done behind closed doors.

House Speaker Brian Bosma should stop accommodating Turner’s abuse of legislative authority or risk seeing voters put an end to it.

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