STRENGTHENING PUBLIC TRUST IN STATE GOVERNMENT – Straight From The Senate

This year, I sponsored a legislative ethics reform law aimed at providing greater transparency requirements for elected officeholders and enhancing public trust in Indiana’s government.

The Indiana General Assembly functions as a part-time, citizen legislature. This means state lawmakers spend the majority of the calendar year living and working in their home communities. This allows legislators to bring real-world experience to the Statehouse, but it also means they must always be on guard against conflicts of interest.

The legislation I sponsored, HEA 1002, helps address this concern by establishing the Office of Legislative Ethics. With more than 1,200 bills proposed in the 2015 session alone, the potential for unintended conflicts can be a concern for even the most prudent elected official. Lawmakers can proactively use the new Office of Legislative Ethics as a resource to better understand potential conflicts or ethical concerns on specific legislation.

Although Indiana’s ethics laws previously had various disclosure requirements for legislators’ financial and economic interests, HEA 1002 increases transparency in these areas.

For instance, legislators are now required to report any source from which they derive at least 25 percent of their income (down from the previous threshold of 33 percent). They are also now required to disclose the name of any business entity in which they, their spouse, or their children own any interest with a value of more than $5,000 (down from the previous threshold of $10,000). If a legislator has a relative who is a lobbyist, they must report it to the Office of Legislative Ethics.

Elected representatives aren’t the only state officials that need to be held to high ethical standards. There have been recent cases where executive branch employees have reportedly resigned from state employment, and immediately begun consulting for companies they regulated or negotiated contracts with in their previous government jobs.

The reform package passed this session closed this loophole.

Prior law prohibited state officers, employees or appointees from working for an employer for one year after leaving state government if they were involved in contracting, licensing or regulatory decisions involving the employer. This is often referred to as the “one-year cooling off period.”

However, a loophole was discovered when former state employees would form sole proprietorships or engage in self-employment to indirectly work for an outside employer. Upon leaving state government, individuals now must follow conflict-of-interest and reporting laws for sole proprietorships or self-employment in the same manner as other forms of employment.

Finally, our ethics reform package further restricts the use of state resources for anything other than official state business. State materials, funds, property, personnel, facilities or equipment cannot be used for any outside purpose unless it is expressly permitted by a policy approved by the State Ethics Commission. If a state employee is found violating these provisions, HEA 1002 allows the State Ethics Commission to impose appropriate sanctions on the employee, including barring them from future state employment.

While no legislation can completely prevent wrongdoing by public officials, it is my hope that HEA 1002 is a comprehensive step forward that will strengthen the public’s trust in our state government.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas concerning these and other topics. My office can be reached at 800-382-9467 or by email at Senator.Long@iga.in.gov.

David Long - IN Dist. 16 Senator

David is a former Republican member of the Indiana State Senate representing the 16th district which encompasses Waynedale. He served as the President Pro Tempore of the Indiana State Senate. David writes the "Straight From The Senate" column for the newspaper. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer