By Olivia Ober
Local government employees couldn't serve on boards that control their salaries and public officials couldn't hire their relatives under legislation considered Thursday by a House committee.
Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, authored House Bill 1005, which is similar to legislation that has failed in past sessions.
The bill — co-authored by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Rep. Chester Dobis, D-Merrillville — is meant to prohibit a person from being both an employee of the unit and serving as the executive on the physical or legislative body of the same unit.
It also prevents relatives from being in the direct line of control or supervision of another relative. In addition, the bill prevents volunteer firefighters from serving on legislative or fiscal body of the unit that serves the fire department in which the person volunteers.
However, it does not prevent an elected officer from serving on a board, commission or committee of the unit. It also does not prevent a person from holding an elected office of a unit of which that person is not directly involved.
The bill also allows a person to retain employment and serve the remainder of the term of elected office that the person holds on Jan. 1, 2013.
"I know that we put our heart and soul into elections and those type of things," Mahan said. "I think we would be very wrong to say, 'You are out of your position now,' so we are going to allow them to fulfill the opportunity for their term."
Gregg Terhune of Camby testified in support in HB 1005 because he identified conflict of interest as a problem in Madison Township since 2002.
"I am here in strong support of 1005," Terhune said. "I believe the conflict of interest portion is perfect. It is critical that we solve the conflict of interest problem in Indiana."
Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, said she believes there is strong public support across Indiana for addressing the issues of nepotism and conflict of interest. She disagreed with opponents of the bill who in the past have feared the bill took away the "right to run for public office."
"We have lots of rights in our country, but the right to run for public office is not one of them," Vaughn said. "In fact, most states have, for many years, prohibited public employees from serving as officials in the same units of governments that they are employed under. What you are doing is bringing Indiana into the mainstream with this language."
Rhonda Cook, a lobbyist with the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, said her organization supported the conflict of interest provisions in the bill and the nepotism concepts. However, she urged lawmakers to keep the issues separate.
"It seems as through we're getting bogged down with some of the provisions of the nepotism law, and it's hard to craft that portion with putting in exceptions and exclusions of various groups and other groups don't get those exclusions," Cook said.
Democrats did not participate in the hearing, which denied majority Republicans the quorum needed to vote on the legislation.
The Statehouse File is an online publication produced by Franklin College journalism students.