Governor and Legislature and State Government and Government & Economic Development

Democrats seek ethics investigation of Turner

March 18, 2014

Democratic Party Chairman John Zody is seeking an investigation into a state lawmaker's private efforts to kill legislation that would have harmed his family's business interest.

Zody wrote a letter to House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, asking whether Rep. Eric Turner, R- Cicero, violated House ethics rules in fighting the nursing home ban this session. A bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed banning construction of new nursing homes amid concerns the market was being flooded with new developments.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed banning construction of new nursing homes amid concerns the market was being flooded with new developments. In his letter to Bosma, Zody cited an AP report published Monday showing that Turner had lobbied against the measure in private meetings of the House Republican caucus last week.

IBJ first reported March 14 that last-minute lobbying unexpectedly killed the legislation.

Turner's son, Zeke Turner, owns and operates an expanding nursing home business based in Carmel and his daughter, Jessaca Turner Stults, was hired as a lobbyist to fight the measure this session. The construction ban, sought by existing nursing homes and health care advocates, would have stalled work on projects being developed by Turner's son that were worth millions of dollars.

In his letter to Bosma, Zody cited an Associated Press report showing that Turner had lobbied against the measure in private meetings of the House Republican caucus last week. The private lobbying by Turner was a marked departure from his public action on the issue, when he would typically excuse himself from votes because of conflicts of interest.

"Representative Turner clearly believed that there was a conflict of interest, or he would not have recused himself publicly from voting on this issue. But behind closed doors he fervently lobbied his colleagues near the end of session when significant decisions are made," Zody wrote.

Bosma spokeswoman Tory Flynn said his office has received the letter and "will be developing a response to it in the coming days."

Health care advocates and owners of existing nursing homes argued during the session that a five-year moratorium was needed on the construction of new nursing homes, which they said would undermine their ability to treat Medicaid patients. Supporters of the ban argued that a flood of new construction in the industry — being led in large part by Zeke Turner's business — would draw wealthier patients from their facilities and undercut their ability to treat poorer patients.

But opponents countered that banning construction would interfere with the free market. They also said the new construction would be an economic boon in areas throughout the state.

Turner's work on behalf of his children has hung over various issues throughout the past few years. The AP reported last year that he lost a shot at running the powerful House Ways and Means Committee because of concerns he may use the post to benefit his family. The AP also reported that he sought a provision last year to benefit a client doing drivers' insurance screenings who was represented by his daughter.

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