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May 1, 2014

EDITORIAL: Take a serious look at ethics rules

House panel on right track in Turner case

Rep. Eric Turner may be breathing easier today after a report issued Wednesday by an Indiana House ethics panel found he violated no legislative rules with his intense lobbying efforts to kill a bill that would have been detrimental to his family’s business interests in the final days of last winter’s session of the General Assembly.

Yet he should find no joy, nor even any sense of exoneration, in the panel’s findings and recommendations, despite his lawyer’s declarations otherwise.

While the ethics panel, which included ranking Democratic member Rep. Clyde Kersey of Terre Haute, acknowledged that no rules were broken, it did make a strong statement that could, and should, lead to changes in the House’s code of ethics.

The House Ethics Committee’s letter to Speaker Brian Bosma said Turner’s actions exposed a weakness in the system that should be fixed.

“While the committee does not find that a technical violation has occurred, we are concerned that Representative Turner’s actions have not achieved the highest spirit of transparency,” the committee wrote. “Remaining questions about his conduct, while he is in compliance with our rules, give us concern that our rules do not require enough disclosure.”

That is a strong statement from a bipartisan committee that requires serious consideration.

As the Associated Press explained in its report about the matter, the ethics investigation is the first internal review of a House member in nearly two decades. Bosma called for the investigation following reports that Turner, in private meetings of the House Republican caucus, lobbied against a nursing home construction ban.

Turner’s family is involved in nursing home development and construct. He is heavily invested in those businesses, although documents indicate he has not fully disclosed the depth of his involvement in ethics statements.

Indiana’s ethics laws bar lawmakers from taking formal actions to benefit themselves, such as casting specific votes, but also encourage lawmakers to offer their “expertise” in debates. Turner has contended he violated no rules, and stated he did not believe he was required to make the full disclosures of his business interests in regard to the specific connections.

Rep. Kersey was on the mark with comments he made about the issue. He said this matter has exposed holes in the ethics code.

“I think this whole thing brought out the fact that we need to make some changes, make things more transparent and call for full disclosure,” Kersey said.

Ethical conduct and transparency in financial disclosure are important issues that deserve ongoing attention. We applaud the ethics panel for taking these matters seriously and pledging to review rules and make recommendations for meaningful changes.

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