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Ethics & Conflicts of Interests

When Indiana lawmakers adjourned March 14, I wondered what I was going to write about next. And when I got news that Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma had requested an ethics investigation of fellow Republican State Rep. Eric Turner, the first thing that came to mind was “this is going to be interesting.”

To get you up to speed, Turner faces accusations of using undue influence in an effort to kill a bill that would have put a moratorium on new nursing homes in Indiana.  There was a big fight in the legislature this past session over whether Indiana had too many unfilled nursing home beds.  Moratorium supporters said “yes” and since the state foots the bill when it comes Medicaid funding they thought it would be a good idea to let things sit for a year or two.  Opponents argued the free market should take care of this problem.

Where Turner comes in is that his son, Zeke Turner, is the CEO of Mainstreet which, guess what, is in the nursing home business.  There have been a few news stories in which some of Turner’s fellow Republicans say while in caucus he really fought against the moratorium to the point where some of the members felt uncomfortable.  I did some checking on my own and some members tell me that, while Turner was a bit over the top at times, there already were concerns with the bill which led to its ultimate demise.

In a nutshell, the ethics rules say a member must recuse himself or herself from voting on something in which he or she has a financial interest.  They’re not so clear when it comes to family members, because Indiana has a part-time legislature. Fundamentally, they all potentially have conflicts of interests because they all have real jobs outside the Statehouse.

What makes the Turner situation so interesting is that all these discussions reportedly took place in caucus.  And the old rule is what happens in caucus, stays in caucus.  A caucus, for those of you who don’t know, is when members gather behind closed doors and hammer out most of their disagreements.  The point is that in caucus everyone can speak freely without worrying about their words showing up in my political gossip column.

So if there’s a ethics hearing, the big issue will be how do lawmakers investigate the issue without breaking that number one caucus rule; made all the more difficult by the fact the ethics committee hearing will be public.  I don’t envy committee chairman Greg Steuerwald of Avon.  Not only does he have to figure out how to make all this work procedurally, but there’s also an issue of who does he call as a witness?  Because, guess what, if you were a member who was in the House Republican caucus at the time, you’re potentially a witness.  And that could include not only Steuerwald, but Rep. Kathy Richardson and Rep. Eric Koch, who are also on the committee.

And while we’re at it, what about the Democrats are on the Committee? How much of the GOP’s private discussions and dirty laundry would they like to see made public?  Not that anyone would use the process to play politics, but let’s face it, this is politics.  And after House Joint Resolution 3, the marriage amendment and legislation that would have allowed religious discrimination by some employers, Turner has not necessarily been the most popular person this session.

So what should you take away from all this?  This simple fact, this is going to complicated and not as cut and dry as anyone thinks. And I now have something to write about this summer.