Tentative compromise on inspector general post

House Bill 1002, sponsored by Speaker Brian Bosma (R) on behalf of Gov. Mitch Daniels, passed the Government Reform Committee last week on a strict 6-5 party line vote. House Minority Leader Pat Bauer (D)

The bill forbids state employees from accepting gifts, favors, services, entertainment, food, drink in any amount from lobbyists and requires employees to wait one year before becoming a lobbyist, working for a lobbying firm or accepting employment from an organization or company that benefited from that employee's influence as a state employee. It also prohibits officers, employees and appointees from participating in any situation that creates a conflict of interest.

HB 1002 also creates the governor-appointed position of an inspector general who will investigate ethics violations by state employees. The inspector general was originally proposed as a separate law enforcement agency with the power to prosecute cases.

Democrats on the committee blanched at the unprecedented power the inspector general post created when the bill was first introduced, and prosecutors throughout the state objected to the original language of the bill that allowed the inspector general to circumvent local prosecutors in pursuing criminal charges.

Republicans brought the bill back to the committee with changes. After amending the original legislation, the inspector general must now receive the approval of an appeals court judge to become a "special prosecutor."

By allowing the governor to appoint an inspector general with the power to investigate and prosecute criminal allegations, some Democrats believe the governor is over-stepping his bounds.

"It's unconstitutional because you're mixing the judicial branch with the executive branch and that is a pretty powerful, potent mixture. I believe it's dangerous for this state," House Minority Leader Pat Bauer (D) said in a statement last week.

Bosma bolstered both the importance and precedent of an inspector general when he introduced the bill, stressing the fact that 11 states currently have this position and Indiana is simply following an important trend in state government.

These claims are only partially true, however.

While 11 states do currently have an inspector general, only three states (Georgia, Illinois and Ohio) charge the inspector with investigating ethics violations in state government, and none of these states allow the inspector to prosecute the cases.

The remaining states have given limited oversight and power to the Office of Inspector General.

In Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania the inspector general is a financial watchdog. In each case the office is charged with detecting, deterring and eliminating the waste or misuse of public funds.

California and Oregon currently have an inspector general who oversees the states' Department of Corrections. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has requested the elimination of the inspector general, however, and claims the elimination will save his state $2.8 million annually.

Florida's inspector general works with state health care agencies, championing accessible, affordable, quality health care for all Floridians. While in Kentucky, the inspector general investigates violations of environmental laws and regulations. In Michigan, the inspector general is a criminal justice agency within the state's family service division, investigating welfare fraud.

Despite the compromise on the duties and powers of the inspector general, Indiana lawmakers have yet to address the omission of House Bill 1002 to cover the legislative branch of state government.

If passed by the Legislature, Indiana lawmakers will impose restrictions on the executive branch of government that they themselves can ignore.

Julia Vaughn of Common Cause Indiana testified in support of the bill at the committee hearing, but continues to push lawmakers to include themselves in the purview of the legislation.

"How can the Legislature say with a straight face that those same rules aren't appropriate for them? Absolutely they are, and we are going to push for that. There is no reason to have two different sets of lobbying laws - one for the executive branch and one for the Legislature," Vaughn said.

Common Cause is a national nonpartisan nonprofit advocacy organization designed for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

Vaughn is meeting with Democratic leaders this week and encouraging them to introduce an amendment to the bill that will include their own behavior. Though she believes the amendment is necessary, she isn't confident lawmakers feel the same sense of urgency.

"They don't really think the public cares about the issue. They figure public opinion has already damned them as politicians, so they don't really stand to gain or lose from the bill as a result of the amendment."

To show your support or opposition to House Bill 1002 contact your state representative or:

Brian Bosma, speaker of the House, at 317-232-9824 or h88@in.gov

Patrick Bauer, minority leader, at 317-232-9629 or h6@in.gov

Julia Vaughn, Common Cause of Indiana, at 317-767-0209 or countusin@gpcpd.org


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