Ethics panel: Overhaul needed after Turner actions

INDIANAPOLIS - An ethics panel cleared House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner of wrongdoing Wednesday for fighting a measure that would have cost him millions of dollars in profits, but it urged lawmakers to strengthen the disclosure rules for public officials.

In its report, the six-member committee stated that while Rep. Turner complied with House rules, his actions raise concern that the rules don’t require enough disclosure.

"There's the letter of the law, the way the law is written, and the spirit of the law, which is the intent. We found Representative Turner didn't violate technical aspects of this, but I think as state representatives and elected officials, we're expected to go beyond that," Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, said.

Turner is accused of lobbying his colleagues in caucus to vote against a bill that would have temporarily banned the construction of new nursing homes.

He had more than $4 million on the line due to an ownership stake in his son’s company that develops senior-care facilities.

In its report, the House Ethics Committee found that while Turner didn’t violate House rules, his actions didn’t achieve the "highest spirit of transparency."

That’s why the group plans to meet this summer to review the rules and code of ethics and to recommend changes -- specifically on conflict of interest and statements of economic disclosure.

"We certainly have found that based upon this review that we do want to look further," Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, said.

Turner did not attend any of the ethics committee hearings, but his lawyer said he is pleased with the outcome.
 
"All of the evidence submitted to the committee, all of the evidence before the committee supports the idea he complied with the ethics of the House, the rules of the House," attorney Toby McClamroch said.

The policy directory for the nonprofit Common Cause Indiana said the public needs to use the controversy to make sure changes to legislative rules and ethics are made.

"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," Julia Vaughn said.

In a statement, Turner said he always believed he acted clearly within House rules when offering his expertise on the nursing home legislation.

The report now goes to Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who requested the probe.

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