Plus, same-sex marriage and Kinsey

An ethics bill sponsored by Speaker of the House Brian Bosma on behalf of Governor Mitch Daniels hit a roadblock in the House of Representatives last week. House Bill 1002, which reiterates several of the new governor's executive orders aimed to clean-up state government, failed to get out of committee.

On Thursday, Feb. 3, the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee tabled the bill until a compromise can be reached between the Republican authors and Democratic members of the committee.

Daniels maintains that Hoosiers deserve to know that state government is being conducted in an open and honest fashion and in the public interest.

To that end, House Bill 1002 forbids an officer, employee, or appointee of the state from accepting gifts, favors, services, entertainment, food, drink in any amount with persons or organizations attempting to influence state law, government policy, or elections.

The bill also requires those same individuals 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 interest.

The most contentious portion of the legislation, however, is that which creates an Office of Inspector General headed by a governor appointed Inspector General who would be charged with investigating and prosecuting ethics violations by state employees.

Democrats have claimed that the newly created position of Inspector General will take power away from local authorities and consolidate too much power in the governor's office.

The federal government and 11 states currently appoint an Inspector General. While each is charged with ethics oversight and enforcement, duties and authority vary from state to state. The Office of Inspector General in Illinois most closely resembles the proposal backed by Governor Daniels.

In Illinois, the OIG's powers and duties include jurisdiction and subpoena power over all state agencies except the Attorney General, Secretary of State, Comptroller, and Treasurer.

He or she also acts as an independent agency whose function is to investigate fraud and abuse in state government, reports any findings to the Governor, and may recommend measures to prevent the future occurrence of investigated instances of fraud, abuse or misconduct. The Illinois Inspector General refers findings establishing criminal conduct to the appropriate prosecuting authority.

Ohio, Maine and Georgia all have an Inspector General with similar duties and authority. In none of the cases, however, does it appear that the OIG prosecutes cases itself, as Daniels has proposed the Inspector General of Indiana would have the power to do.

House Republicans are expected to come back to the Government and Regulatory Reform Committee with some type of compromise regarding the Inspector General's domain and potential conflict with local prosecutors soon.

As one Democratic staffer put it, "It's the Speaker's bill. It's not dead."

When the bill does return to Committee, however, Republicans are preparing for further resistance and requests for change.

Currently, neither current state law nor Bosma's proposed legislation forbid lawmakers from the behavior they will ban for all other employees of the state. Both Republicans and Democrats know there has been a large public outcry for House Bill 1002 to be amended for the inclusion of legislators under the ethics guidelines.

Common Cause of Indiana is just one organization pushing for an amendment to include legislators.

Director Julia Vaughn thinks citizens have a fairly good chance of seeing lawmakers pass reform legislation that applies to all state employees, including themselves.

"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" said Vaughn.

In it's current status, House Bill 1002 is a situational ethics bill covering some of the people some of the time. If left unchanged, it lets legislators impose laws upon others that they refuse to abide by themselves.

Democrats object to the creation of Inspector General - primarily because they object to all the maneuvering Daniels has done with state offices and jobs. They feel he's consolidating too much power in one branch of the government.

But, because the ethics issues and the creation of inspector general are part of the same bill, if they vote against the bill they can be accused of voting against ethics reform.

And while no legislator has yet requested the amendment of the speaker's ethics bill to include the 150 members of the Indiana House and Senate, few will risk opposing it publicly.

Protecting marriage

Senate Joint Resolution No. 7, the same-sex marriage amendment, secured its first victory in the statehouse on Feb. 9 when a vote straight down party lines passed it out of committee and on to the Senate floor.

SR 07 amends the State Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman and to prohibit state law from being construed to require legal rights of marriage be conferred to unmarried couples.

In his introduction of the bill, Sen. Brandt Hershman described the amendment as "a continuing effort to preserve and protect the institution of marriage."

"This is the way it's always been in Indiana, in America, in the world, in the history of civilization," Hershman offered in support of his proposal.

Chair David Long allowed for one hour of testimony from the advocates and an additional hour for opponents of the bill.

Supporters for the amendment included Kurt Smith, President, Indiana Family Institute, and Eric Miller, Founder, Advance America, as well as numerous representatives from a variety of local churches.

Miller warned the legislators that anything short of a constitutional ban on gay marriage put children at great risk.

"I know for a fact they're creating teacher guides to introduce the idea of homosexuality to kindergarten children in Massachusetts," he testified.

Wife and mother Michelle Montgomery had additional concerns for children. Warning legislators that laws can have unintended consequences, she pointed out the extermination of a generation of children as a result of abortion laws.

The unintended consequence of gay marriage, Montgomery fears, is "the extinction of the human race because these people don't reproduce."

Opponents of the measure then had their hour to offer testimony.

Those who took a turn at the microphone against the resolution included Sheila Kennedy, former director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and current professor of law and sociology at IUPUI.

Kennedy told the committee that the amendment "actively discriminates against gay citizens and undermines Gov. Daniels' plans for economic development."

Like many in the opposition, Kennedy stressed the effects this legislation could have on attracting new business to Indiana in progressive fields such as technology and life sciences.

Despite the impassioned pleas of both sides, the committee took a role call vote resulting in seven Republicans voting yes and four Democrats voting no.

Having successfully passed committee, SR 07 now heads to the Senate floor for second and third readings and an eventual vote.


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