The Indiana Housed passed ethics legislation Monday that would require lawmakers to be more transparent about their finances and strengthen laws meant to keep elected officials from using state resources for political gain.
The bill passed unanimously.
House Bill 1002 – which is now headed to the Senate – is a reaction in part to ethics questions involving a former lawmaker and state superintendent of public instruction. The bill’s author, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said the bill is all about “buttressing the public trust.”
The bill mandates ethics training for lawmakers and creates an ethics office within the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.
It sets new requirements for legislative statements of economic interest. Lawmakers would have to disclose active business investments of at least $5,000. Current law doesn’t require disclosure until investments reach $10,000.
And the proposed language also defines modern business entities including limited liability partnerships and limited liability corporations to force more disclosure.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, a co-author of the bill, called the changes “common sense and manageable” for lawmakers while strong enough to protect the public interest.
“We’re reflections of the people – the good things and the bad things,” Pelath said of the General Assembly. “People are pretty good: 85 percent of us know where the lines are and stay clear of them.”
But, he added, the remaining 15 percent sometimes need a brighter line to know where not to cross.
“We have clarity,” he said. “And clarity is essential here.”
Already, the House has added a number of the changes to its ethics code and chamber rules but supporters say it’s important to write the provision into law as well.
The proposal comes just months after Republican Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, resigned after he was accused of advocating privately for a bill that helped him and his family financially. Turner said he was leaving the legislature to pursue mission work but Bosma had said he would strip him of his leadership position.
The House Ethics Committee ruled that Turner didn’t actually break any rules – but that the rules needed to change.
The proposal also follows an investigation of former State Superintendent Tony Bennett, who was accused of using state staff and resources in his unsuccessful reelection campaign. A state investigation found he didn’t break the law because of the way his office policy was written.
Bosma said his bill would close that loophole so it’s clear elected leaders can’t use their offices for political purposes.