Retired senator named executive director of vaping group

A recently retired Indiana lawmaker who voted in favor of a controversial vaping bill has been hired as the executive director of the Vapor Association of Indiana.

Retired Sen. Brent Steele voted in favor of a vaping bill in 2015 that allowed a handful of companies in Indiana to make and sell e-liquid, The Indianapolis Star reported.

As the association's executive director, Steele will represent the few companies licensed to manufacture electronic smoking device liquid under Indiana's new law.

Critics of the law say they are disappointed in Steele's new position. However, Steele insists that he sees no ethical issues with it.

"My job will be to make sure the association is run professionally and that we continue to assure the public that we have a safe product out on the shelves," he said.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long said last month that fixing the vaping law is a top priority in the next legislative session.

During the session, the vapor association will be actively lobbying at the Statehouse, which has raised questions about how Steele will follow a rule that prohibits lawmakers from lobbying their colleagues for one year after leaving office. The rule is intended to prevent lawmakers from trading on their public service for private financial gain.

Steele said he intends to hire an outside lobbying firm to represent the association at the General Assembly, to honor the rule.

Julia Vaughn, spokeswoman for the accountability group Common Cause Indiana, said the agreement "reeks of impropriety."

"It's walking up right to the ethics laws and getting your toe just about as close as you possibly can," she said.

Steele is scheduled to begin his new role Jan. 1.

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