IBJNews

Turner case tests bounds of 'citizen legislature'

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

When a legislative ethics panel meets this week to review the case of House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, members could have trouble finding clear-cut answers, in large part because of the Indiana General Assembly's status as a "citizen legislature."

The House Ethics Committee is tasked with deciding whether Turner, a Cicero Republican, violated ethics rules when he lobbied against a proposed ban on the construction of new nursing homes during the final days of the 2014 session.

When House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, first asked the panel to review Turner's actions, it appeared that Turner's son — the president of nursing home developer Mainstreet Property Group — had the most to lose if the ban passed. But the Associated Press reported last week that Turner makes upward of a million dollars on each new nursing home project through his 38-percent ownership stake in Mainstreet Property Group.

The ban would have cost Turner millions in potential profits from planned nursing homes in Indiana.

For his part, Turner has said in press statements that he has done nothing wrong and acknowledged a stake in the nursing home business. Turner also recused himself from votes on the issue in public but spoke out against it in private meetings of the House Republican caucus.

Unlike a full-time legislature, such as the U.S. Congress, or the legislature of a larger state like New York, part-time, citizen legislatures are comprised of lawmakers who typically maintain careers outside politics. The two separate jobs — representing the public and working in private — can clash.

But supporters of the part-time model also point out that legislatures filled with farmers, bankers, teachers and numerous other professions, provide a diversity of viewpoints unobtainable in full-time legislatures, which are typically filled with lawyers.

When asked last week if he had any concerns about Turner's efforts inside the private caucus meetings, House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, referenced advice a former Democratic lawmaker once offered on the House floor.

"I remember a wise veteran legislator, Dale Grubb, one time got to the front of the microphone and said that if we were going to be restrictive of how people looked at this issue, we were going to devalue ourselves to become a full-time legislature," Brown said. "So I think I follow the Dale Grubb advice that we need to have citizens of all walks and all aspects."

The House ethics code itself provides somewhat conflicting guidance in Turner's case. On one hand, it bars lawmakers from using their elected office for the direct benefit of themselves or their families. But it also tasks lawmakers with providing their "expertise" in an area during a debate.

Ed Feigenbaum, a veteran observer of Indiana politics, dissected the ethics troubles that are unique to part-time legislatures in a 2006 article for the Indiana Law Review. Lacking some clear-cut ethics laws, it's even more important for lawmakers to be vigilant about ethical conduct and the limits they do place on themselves, he wrote.

But he said that has not often been the case inside the Statehouse.

"Lawmakers are often reluctant to be too comprehensive or demanding when the laws they draft apply to them, and Indiana's ethics rules for legislators are briefer and less proscriptive than the code of ethics that Indiana's lobbyists have drafted for themselves," Feigenbaum wrote.

Lacking black-and-white guidelines on Turner's actions, the members of the House Ethics Committee will have to examine shades of gray in deciding which conflicts of interest are acceptable and which ones go too far for a citizen legislature.

ADVERTISEMENT

  • How hard is i?t
    The "part time legislature" line of Dale Grubbs is a red herring. How hard is it to acknowledge a conflict of interest and take the highest ethical approach?
  • Vote This Guy OUT!
    There's a Primary Election coming Tuesday, May 6th. Why wait for any Ethics Committee to slap the hand of this guy and say that he made all Republicans look bad? Why not just vote for Parvin Gillim, the Sheridan, IN architect who's running against Eric Turner. Let's have a vote against legislators who use government to get rich. I'm not buying that the Turner Family Business is in he best interests of Indiana. If you vote for Gillim in 2 weeks, he will be on the ballot for House District 32, not Turner.
  • Turner
    Ripps = Turner.
  • Obscene
    To paraphrase a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice on a case involving obscenity, "I may not be able to define obscenity, but I know it when I see it."
  • Ethics conflict?
    His ownership interest in Mainstreet was not only disclosed by him but was also well known to both his fellow legislators and the public and he abstained from voting. So why is this either an 'ethics violation' or conflict of interest situation. Should he have to divest his private investments in order to use his right of free speech to advocate for them? Or only when the House is in session? Is there any significance to the investment value being $10k, 100k, $1M or $10M? If he owns stock in a major Indiana company is it also a 'conflict of interest' if he supports them building a new facility in Indiana?

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Only half a million TV Viewers? And thats an increase? I knew Indycar was struggling but I didn't know it was that bad. Hell, if NASCAR hits 5 Million viewers everyone starts freaking out saying its going down hill. It has a long way to before Indycar even hits NASCAR's bad days.

  2. IU has been talking that line for years with no real progress even with the last Dean, Dr. Brater. Why will an outsider, Dr. Hess, make a difference? With no proof of additional resources (cash in the bank), and a concrete plan to move an academic model that has been outdated for decades with a faculty complacent with tenure and inertia, I can count on IU to remain the same during the tenure of Dr. Hess. One ought to look to Purdue and Notre Dame for change and innovation. It is just too bad that both of those schools do not have their own medical school. Competition might wake up IU. My guess is, that even with those additions to our State, IU will remain in its own little world squandering our State's tax dollars. Why would any donor want to contribute to IU with its track record? What is its strategy to deal with the physician shortage for our State? New leadership will not be enough for us to expect any change.

  3. How do you think the Bridges got approved? I spent a couple days researching PAC's and individual contributions to some city council members during that time. My printouts were inches thick on the two I concentrated on. Finally gave up. Was disgusted with all the donations, and who they were from. Would have taken me days and days to compile a complete list. Tried to give it to the Star reporter, but he thought it was all just fine. (and apparently he was treated well himself) He ended up being laid off or fired though. And then of course, there was land donated to the dad's club, or city, as a partial payoff. All done in the shining example of "charity." No, none of these contributions are a coincidence.

  4. I agree what kind of help or if any will be there for Dr. Ley's patients. I was a patient myself.

  5. What about the hundreds of patients who sought this doctor for the right reasons, to quit drugs. what option do these patients now have, experience horrible withdrawl or return to heroin?? those are the choices. what about the children of these former addicts who's parent(s) WILL not b able to maintain their job, for @ least 2 weeks.. There needs to b an emergency clinic opened for these patients.

ADVERTISEMENT