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Lawmaker Turner worked to nix nursing home ban

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A powerful House Republican secretly lobbied colleagues in the final hours of the 2014 session last week to kill a measure that would have been disastrous for his family's nursing home business.

Rep. Eric Turner lobbied to kill legislation that would have temporarily halted construction of new nursing homes and elderly care facilities, multiple Republicans with direct knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press. Turner's son has emerged as a statewide leader in building such facilities, capitalizing on a surge of retiring Baby Boomers.

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

The Republicans spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the private caucus meetings during which Turner argued his case.

Turner didn't immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment Monday. And House Republican spokeswoman Tory Flynn was unable to reach him.

Turner's private lobbying marked an about-face from his public actions during the session, during which he regularly excused himself from votes on the measure and stayed quiet through public hearings.

Last year, The Associated Press reported that Turner had pushed a measure to benefit a client of his daughter, who is a Statehouse lobbyist. In light of that, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said last year he'd review how the House handles conflicts of interests.

Bosma was on vacation and not available for comment Monday, Flynn said.

Turner is one of the House's most powerful Republicans, with the formal title of Speaker Pro Tem and the author of most pieces of tax legislation. He was in line to become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee at the start of last session, but the AP reported last year that concerns from Republican lawmakers about conflicts of interest cost him the coveted spot.

House ethics rules bar lawmakers from voting directly to benefit themselves, but Turner's efforts last year and this year did not appear to be a violation because they would have benefited his children instead.

Mainstreet Property Group LLC, a development company run by Zeke Turner and founded in part by his son Eric Turner, is in the process of developing five projects that the company believes will result in $162 million in economic impact throughout the state. A message left Monday with a Mainstreet Property spokeswoman seeking comment was not immediately returned.

The stakes are high in the nursing home game. Existing operators, some with older facilities, came to state lawmakers this year seeking to extend a construction moratorium enacted in 2009. They argued that flooding the market with new facilities would draw wealthier patients away and cause Medicaid recipients to be stuck in worsening conditions at the older homes.

Eric Turner's children, Zeke Turner and Jessaca Turner Stults, who's a lobbyist for Mainstreet, were on the other side of the debate with developers and trade unions, arguing that building new nursing homes meant creating thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in economic development.

Publicly, Eric Turner stayed out of the fight. In a pair of House committee hearings on the issue, he did not talk openly about the issue and excused himself from voting twice because of the conflict of interest.

Zeke Turner and others launched a last-minute campaign at the end of the session, bringing in top-tier Republican and Democratic lobbyists to sway lawmakers. But it was his father's decision to swoop in last Wednesday as the session raced to a close that became deciding factor in defeating the nursing home measure, said another Republican with direct knowledge of Turner's efforts.

Lawmakers are often asked to recuse themselves from issues that benefit themselves or their direct family, said David Orentlicher, a law professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and a former Democratic representative.

But in a part-time Legislature, where lawmakers have outside jobs, it can be hard to avoid every potential conflict, he said.

Orentlicher said that if Turner thought it was necessary to recuse himself from voting on the issue in public, he should be equally transparent about his efforts in private.

"Caucus should figure out the policy to address this type of situation especially because you're doing it where it is behind closed doors, so the need is even greater," he said.

Mainstreet has been the focus of conflict-of-interest questions in the past. Last year, the company was cleared of wrongdoing in a review of a state incentive deal ordered by former Gov. Mitch Daniels.

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  • Long Trail
    I knew Eric Turner's children growing up. These sort of shenanigans stretch as least back into the '80s. Investigators should start with Family Fireworks and just follow the money in the ensuing decades. I sure folks in Marion and Gas City have many a story to tell.
  • Great Comments/Time for Turner to Go
    I agree with every comment. Turner should resign and then be sent to jail for corruption. Bosma should be rejected by voters if he doesn't do something about the systemic conflicts of interest that abound in the House.
  • Another Industry with Anti-Competitive Help from the Government?
    Why does the nursing home industry need to be protected from competition? Why should we pay higher prices to benefit a few nursing home operators? This smacks of the protection provided by Indiana legislators for the package liquor stores, liquor distributors, and other groups that have convinced a group of bi-partisan legislators that we are all better off without competition in the marketplace. While on its face, this does not look very good for Mr. Turner and he certainly will benefit from an end to the moratorium, we should all be asking how this happened in the first place and insist that anti-competitive legislation be stricken from all areas of the free market.
  • Nursing Home Pay
    In addition, Now we also know why worker make such meager wages for all the hard work they do wiping butts in his nursing homes. I wish someone could put him & his family to work at one of their nursing facilities.
  • I hope this starts some type of investigation
    We don't elect law-makers so that they can line their pockets or their families. This sends a message to every constutient in his district but they aren't probaly smart enough to do anything about it. Republicans have played these games for years.
    • Bad Law to Begin With
      Turner may have been on one side of this but the law was wrong to begin with. The nursing home lobbyists didn't want further competition so they didn't want any more facilities. That is a restraint of trade. The problem is that our legislators spent time on it to begin with.
    • Deeper Still
      Good job reporting this IBJ. This news comes as no shock to anyone who has had business dealings with this nursing home company. All the spin about being "innovative" and the continuous press releases put out by these guys can't hide the simple, now obvious, facts.
    • Unanimous agreement with all who have commented
      Worse than Delph...maybe by a lot...and that is saying something...reprehensible behavior by a supposedly devout Christian...completely agree with all comments...embarrassing, rigged politics...
    • Whoa
      I don't know what makes me more angry...the fact that a state legislator has such a strong conflict of interest, or the fact that no money is spent with Indiana companies. Their furniture and supplies come out of WI. We have extremely competent design firms and suppliers right here in the state. Maybe he should focus on Indiana from this perspective and not from his obviously selfish one.
    • Turner...
      Eric Turner is a crooked politician. There, it's been said. No equivocation, no question, no other interpretation. He is clearly out to ensure that he and his family will always attain (and, retain) the most optimal position, the greatest largesse, and the most politically-advantageous positions available. He abstained from the actual votes knowing that he would twist as many arms (and, offer whatever "perks" it would take) during the behind-the-scenes activities, in order to ensure that his family, and his family's business, would continue to be a leader (albeit, a HIGHLY questionable one) in the nursing home industry. But, God bless him, he's here to ensure that we only have straight, heterosexual marriages like his...
    • House of Cards
      power spawns greed, gread leads to corruption...pretty simple formula
    • Turner
      Boy...he really does care about Indiana and it's citizens (less family) first. Let's see...should be god, family and then hmmm...country or $$$$$$$$
    • where..
      Is this a dream.. have I gone to sleep and awakened in Louisiana?
    • Punish
      No one regardless whether you work for the people or a private business should you gain monetarily by your power. These type of folks are the lowest scum on the planet and only hurt others who do the rightthing
    • Do it!
      Start with how they aquired Highland Manor and more...It's administrator and more...Tif's and deals with buddies in Gov...It's coming...
    • Conflict of interest
      It is now time to go after Rep. Turner and others in the legislature who use their influence to benefit their relatives or friends or friends of lobbyists. Corruption is rampant in the Indiana legislature and it is time for the citizens to take action and remove these offenders such as Turner. I, for one am going after Turner, I will investigate every aspect of his life, and I will bring him to justice. I will also investigate his family, and bring down his son's little nursing home construction schemes. I will work to insure Turner's removal from the Legislature. Then I will pursue other offenders.

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