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Ethics panel ruling defended, panned

FILE- In this Jan. 13 2014 file phoRepublican House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner R-Cicero presents proposed amendment state's constitutiban

FILE- In this Jan. 13, 2014 file photo, Republican House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, R-Cicero, presents a proposed amendment to the state's constitution to ban gay marriage during a hearing of the House elections committee at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. The House Ethics Committee meets to vote on whether Rep. Eric Turner violated state ethics laws when he lobbied in caucus to kill a nursing home ban that would have cost his family millions. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, file)

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Updated: June 3, 2014 6:36AM



There’s been little political backlash against Wednesday’s ethics panel vote that cleared House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner of wrongdoing for lobbying behind closed doors against legislation that would have impacted him financially.

In a GOP legislative caucus, Turner, R-Cicero, opposed a proposed five-year construction ban on new nursing homes.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show Turner had more than $4 million in profits on the line through his ownership stake in the company operated by his son.

While the six-member panel concluded Turner complied with House rules, it did voice concern the rules don’t require enough disclosure.

Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said Turner did not cross an ethical line.

“Eric is very clear about his interest. I don’t think there’s five people in that caucus who don’t know his son is in that business. Everybody in the caucus has an occupation and some vested interested in something,” Soliday said.

Indiana’s ethics laws bar lawmakers from taking formal actions to benefit themselves, such as casting specific votes, but also encourages lawmakers to offer their “expertise” in debates.

Turner said he was offering his perspective on the nursing home industry, and not pressuring legislators.

“I’ve know Eric since I came in and if he was across the line, I’d be in his space,” Soliday said.

State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, wasn’t surprised at the outcome.

“Those among us on the ‘D’ side didn’t expect anything to come out of this,” said Smith.

Smith agreed that lawmakers find themselves personally impacted by legislation frequently. “Probably what we should do is disclose it, not in a caucus, but on the floor.”

The harshest criticism came from Common Cause Indiana, a nonprofit public policy group.

“I think it really does matter that public behavior and private behavior needs to match, because if it doesn’t, then the things that happen on the House and Senate floor are just an act, just a charade,” said Julia Vaughn, the group’s policy director.

Calvin Bellamy, president of the Shared Ethics Advisory Committee that’s based in Northwest Indiana, said Thursday his panel wasn’t permitted to express opinions where it has no jurisdiction.

Personally though, he said the ethics committee realized its rules need to be refined. “The gold standard would be to disclose and not participate,” he said.



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