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Ethics bill clears Senate with unanimous support

February 25, 2010

The most sweeping Indiana legislation in years to tighten ethics and lobbying rules for the General Assembly and the executive branch cleared the state Senate 50-0 Thursday and appeared headed soon to Gov. Mitch Daniels for his signature.

The measure would bar lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for one year after their terms expire and require lobbyists to report any gifts worth $50 or more — including meals, drinks and tickets to events—instead of the current $100 limit. It also bars incumbents or candidates for statewide office from raising campaign funds during budget-writing legislative sessions.

The bill won broad bipartisan support in both chambers of the Legislature.

"It is certainly a rarity that you see all 50 senators sign on to a bill," said the lead Senate sponsor, Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis.

The only thing slowing the bill's likely eventual passage appeared to be whether its House author, Democratic Speaker Patrick Bauer of South Bend, would send it to a House-Senate conference committee to restore so-called "pay-to-play" language. That provision would bar vendors holding or seeking state contracts worth $100,000 or more per year from donating to the campaigns of candidates seeking state office. Bauer said Thursday he was undecided.

"They did a pretty good job with the rest of the bill," the House leader said.

His approval was significant, since the Senate largely wrote its own ethics measure into the House bill. Among other provisions, the Senate added language that would require university liaisons to the General Assembly to register as lobbyists and bar statewide elected officials from using tax dollars for ads that mention themselves by name, Miller said.

A key provision in Bauer's bill that the Senate kept would require lobbyists to report conflicts of interest involving more than one of their clients and how the lobbyists would resolve those conflicts, Miller said.

"It took a lot of work, a lot of talking to people, give and take, and so on, but it was almost from the very beginning strong support for doing ethics reform this session," Miller said.

Miller said she thought the bill could avoid a conference committee. She and the Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Vi Simpson of Bloomington, huddled with Bauer as the Senate reworked the bill to make sure it had the speaker's approval, Miller said.

"This was a bipartisan and bicameral effort," Simpson said.

Miller said some of the provisions, including registration of university lobbyists and slowing the revolving door of lawmakers becoming lobbyists, had come before lawmakers in other years and gone nowhere. Several former Indiana lawmakers have become registered lobbyists, including some who resigned and took lobbying jobs during the next legislative session.

About 30 other states have similar "revolving-door" waiting periods for lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"We've not had a scandal, something that's forcing this. This is coming about because legislators realize that it's something that needs to be done," Miller said.

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