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State legislator defends supporting daughter's client

April 15, 2013

A powerful Indiana House Republican on Monday defended his decision to support a Utah company his daughter represents as a Statehouse lobbyist, one week after Gov. Mike Pence placed a hold on state aid to a company run by the lawmaker's son.

House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner pushed a measure in the House opening the door for Insure-Rite to win a multimillion-dollar contract screening uninsured drivers for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Turner's effort to include the proposal in a sweeping tax bill failed late last month, but a similar measure was signed into law by Pence last week.

Turner, R-Cicero, said he saw nothing wrong with advocating for the measure being sought by his daughter, Jessaca Turner Stults, a lobbyist working for Insure-Rite. He said he has previously voted against the interest of his daughter's clients on legislation and didn't think it was necessary to recuse himself.

"I vote the way I feel my constituents feel and the way I feel would be the best to vote," Turner said. "I only vote in what's in the best interest of Indiana."

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show Turner authored the failed House amendment. Turner and his daughter say it was instead written by House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville. Brown said Turner asked for the amendment and he authorized it.

The news comes one week after Gov. Mike Pence placed a hold on state aid for Mainstreet Property Group, following an AP report about Turner's help in starting the company run by his son. Turner and a spokeswoman for Mainstreet have said the lawmaker had no involvement in winning the $345,000 in state aid for the company, but the Indiana Economic Development Corporation is reviewing the deal.

Stults said she saw nothing wrong with her father supporting the Insure-Rite measure and pointed to legislation he authored that would harm one of her other clients, online retailer Amazon.

"I think that we do a very good job of trying not to cross that line, but I'm not going to deny that I'm his daughter," Stults said. "This is my job, and I represent my clients. Just like he does what he needs to do from a policy perspective."

The House rules require that lawmakers recuse themselves from votes if "immediately and particularly interested in the result on any question." Turner said he did not need to recuse himself because he did not hold a direct financial stake.

Turner's situation is "a very clear conflict of interest," said Stuart Yoak, executive director of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics at Indiana University. If they don't, it can undermine public trust in the Legislature, he said.

Part-time lawmakers in the General Assembly often face conflicts of interest with either their other professions or their family's interests. But it's up to those lawmakers to decide whether they're doing something for personal benefit, instead of for the public's, and recuse themselves, Yoak said. If they don't, it can undermine public trust in the Legislature, he said.

"The fact that is the case doesn't mean that you are relieved of that moral obligation, to act on behalf of those citizens," he said. "You can't just use that as an excuse."

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