A bill set to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session would give Indiana lawmakers oversight of key state appointments made by the governor.
The legislation, filed on Tuesday by State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, is in direct response to an Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission ethics scandal that led to the firing of the IURC's chairman.
“It would give the Legislature a role in the process of appointing people to critical administrative jobs,” DeLaney said. “It’s designed to put some sunlight on the process and take some burden off the governor.”
The IURC’s five commissioners, including its chairman, would be subject to hearings conducted by a committee comprised of eight legislators from both the House and Senate.
Commissioners of the Department of Environmental Management, Department of Labor, Department of Transportation and the Family and Social Services Administration also would fall under the additional oversight, according to the bill.
The legislative committee would review nominations and provide recommendations to the governor, who still would make the appointment.
In giving the Legislature an advisory role in appointments to several commissions, the bill would repeal a state statute that applies only to appointees to the IURC. The statute created a legislative nominating committee for IURC commissioners only. The 7-member committee provides three candidates to the governor for consideration.
Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of the political newsletter Indiana Legislative Insight, is uncertain whether the proposed bill would make much difference in who the governor appoints to various commissions.
“I’m not sure to what extent it would change things,” he said. “I’m not sure it amounts to anything more than an empty rhetorical exercise if they don’t have confirmation power.”
DeLaney has discussed the bill with several staff members of the governor’s office, which opposes the measure.
“The [State] Constitution sets forth a clear separation between the legislative and executive branches, and this bill would not be binding for those appointments,” spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said.
The bill also would prevent an appointee from taking office until 45 days after the legislative committee has been notified.
“I don’t think anyone would want to see a department be unmanned for upwards of 45 days or so,” Jankowski argued.
DeLaney’s bill stems from an ethics flap involving a former IURC administrative law judge who presided over a number of cases related to Duke Energy Corp.’s controversial Edwardsport coal-gasification plant while simultaneously seeking a job with the utility.
Gov. Mitch Daniels fired IURC Chairman David Lott Hardy this fall for failing to pull Scott Storms from Duke cases after learning Storms applied for a job at Duke.
Disclosure of e-mails between Hardy and Storms emerged recently that raised new concerns. Hardy and Storms, in e-mails the agency recently disclosed, made light of the Indiana Ethics Commission procedures required to clear him for a job with Duke, which he accepted in September. Storms also traded e-mails with then-Duke Indiana president Mike Reed about his potential employment with the utility.
Duke put Storms and Reed on administrative leave after media disclosure of the e-mails, obtained through public records requests. Duke later fired both. Another Duke executive, who enjoyed a chummy relationship with Hardy, stepped down or was fired from his job this week.
Meanwhile, the IURC concluded an internal investigation that found Storms “did not deviate in his rulings or decisions from commission procedure or standard practice,” the state agency said Tuesday in a prepared statement.
If DeLaney’s bill moves quickly through the upcoming session and ultimately is signed by the governor, the candidate to replace Hardy as IURC chairman could be subjected to legislative hearings, DeLaney said.
DeLaney suggested the Indiana Inspector General’s office and the Indiana Ethics Commission might need additional oversight as well. Neither is included in his bill.
The Inspector General investigates criminal and ethics violations by state employees and contractors and forwards those complaints to the Ethics Commission. The Inspector General and the five ethics commissioners all are appointed by the governor.
“I think the problem is broader than any one agency,” DeLaney said. “This is only part of what we need to clear up the problem, but it’s an important part.”