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Look southward for a solution
Ethics panel leaders say they would like to meet over the summer to consider whether changes are needed in their current rules.
No study is needed. Just look to Kentucky, where legislators unanimously passed strict new ethics rules this year. Among its many provisions, the “no cup of coffee” law prohibits lobbyists and employers from spending any money – even as much as the cost of a cup of coffee – on legislators, legislative candidates and their immediate family members. It prohibits lawmakers from using their office for private gain. It requires annual ethics training for legislators each January. It bars lobbyists from paying for out-of-state travel for legislators.
“With these improvements, Kentucky solidifies its stature as the state with the most effective and comprehensive legislative ethics law in the nation,” writes George C. Troutman, chairman of the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission.
Surely, Indiana lawmakers can follow the same rules as their Kentucky counterparts. When the next session opens, tough new ethics rules must be the first order of business.

Ethical approach: Lawmakers learn need for stricter oversight


Time might heal all wounds, but it won’t repair the damage Rep. P. Eric Turner did to the integrity of the Indiana General Assembly. For lawmakers to mend the institution after his self-serving behavior, they must quickly close the conflict-of-interest loopholes that allowed him to abuse his power.

For now, the determination by the House Ethics Committee that Turner’s “actions have not achieved the highest spirit of transparency” must suffice, along with the panel’s acknowledgment that “our rules do not require enough disclosure.” Other states have strong rules that can easily be adopted.

The danger, however, is that the ethics committee report will serve as the last word on the incident, and a conflict will continue to be strictly interpreted in terms of sponsoring or voting on bills in which lawmakers have a direct and substantial financial interest. Indeed, Indianapolis attorney Toby McClamroch, who represents Turner, called the report “an exoneration.” The Cicero legislator, with a direct financial interest in his son’s nursing home development company, abstained from votes on a proposed nursing home moratorium but secretly argued against it in political caucus.

Fortunately, the Republican caucus included at least one legislator conscientious enough to blow the whistle on Turner. The majority not only kept quiet but overlooked his glaring conflict to kill the nursing home construction ban.

Some House Republicans seemingly bought into the thinking that excuses clear conflicts of interest as professional expertise. Yet Turner’s background is in running an investment company and a fireworks business. To accept that his remarks informed debate about the nursing home industry and its effect on public spending for Medicare strains credulity.

Rep. Tim Brown, an emergency room physician, can lend expertise to issues regarding emergency medicine, or Rep. Kreg Battles, a high school chemistry teacher, can offer insight into classroom instruction and curriculum. But neither is likely to see a direct financial gain from their input. That’s a distinction some legislators fail to acknowledge.

The Associated Press reported that Turner earned nearly $8 million on nursing home developments in the past two years and could earn between $1 million and $2 million on projects now cleared for development because the proposed construction ban was killed.

For any lawmaker to defend such an egregious conflict suggests the General Assembly is sorely in need of ethics training.