Rep. P. Eric Turner's fall from legislative grace comes not a day too soon. It will have come too late, however, if it doesn't produce an ethics overhaul for the Indiana General Assembly. Legislative candidates should be prepared to explain where they stand on mending the institution's damaged reputation.
House Speaker Brian Bosma finally acknowledged the embarrassing conflict of interest held by his second in command after the Associated Press revealed what Turner had at stake in the last session. It was no Statehouse secret that the Cicero Republican was one of the legislature's wealthiest members. And yet his colleagues allowed him to lobby against a nursing home bill that would have harmed his financial interests.
The proposed moratorium on nursing home construction would have cost Mainstreet Property Group – owned by the lawmaker, his family and a small group of other investors – millions. Documents obtained by the AP showed Turner stood to earn as much as $2 million from development projects that were allowed to proceed because the construction moratorium did not pass.
While the General Assembly's lax regulations allowed him to intervene, it was clearly unethical for Turner to use his powerful status for personal gain. It was unconscionable to do it at Hoosiers' expense.
The state has too many nursing homes – spending $1.1 billion a year more on long-term care than the national average.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Indiana has 763 nursing home beds for every 100,000 residents, compared to a national average of 528 beds. Not surprisingly, the state lags in spending on home health care – $422 million a year below the national average. The Indianapolis Business Journal calculated the burden of paying for too many nursing home rooms at $37.8 billion, or $780 for every Indiana resident.
That's a steep price for allowing a citizen-lawmaker to ply his trade on the Statehouse floor.
The current low standards provided Turner the cover he needed.
“I have no doubt the House Ethics Committee review of this matter was thorough and resulted in the correct conclusion; however, it also revealed significant gaps which must be addressed,” Bosma said in stripping Turner of his leadership post. “My greatest concern is restoring the confidence of the public in their elected officials.”
Voters can hold Bosma to his word by insisting that legislative candidates endorse a comprehensive package of tough ethics laws. Kentucky's code, for example, would clearly have prohibited Turner from lobbying to protect his own interests. It also places oversight of the code with an independent nine-member commission.
Indiana should follow Kentucky's lead and raise the bar on Statehouse conduct. Which candidates are on board?