Thursday, April 14, 2011

Turner Abstains From Vote On Nursing Home Bill

State Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero) abstained from voting on legislation that was intended to curb the number of private-pay nursing home beds in Indiana after a story in the Star questioned his conflict of interest. Turner originally told the Star he would not abstain from voting on legislation on which both his daughter, a lobbyist, and his son, a nursing home owner, had testified against in the House Ways & Means Committee. State Rep. Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale), the committee's chairman asked Turner to abstain, although he said he thought the Star unfairly characterized his conflict of interest. The committee's vote stripped from the bill the provision limiting the number of new beds opposed by Turner's family members. The company owned by Turner's family bills itself as "one of the nation's largest real estate developers committed to improving long-term care" according to its website. The Star's Heather Gillers explains:

The Indianapolis Star reported Wednesday that one of the committee members, Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, is a partner in a company invested in his son's nursing home development firm.

In addition, Turner' son and daughter, a lobbyist, have testified against the bill before the committee.

Turner told The Star on Tuesday that he saw no need to abstain from voting on the nursing home expansion restrictions, which he opposes for philosophical reasons.

On Wednesday, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, criticized The Star -- then asked Turner to abstain.

"For those of you who read The Star this morning," Espich said at the committee hearing, "there was . . . I think a very unfair characterization that there are conflicts of interest. I am going to ask Representative Turner not to vote on this motion because his family is directly involved."

Turner complied with Espich's request that he not vote on the issue.
Sen. Pat Miller (R-Miller), the Senate sponsor of the legislation, is not amused by the House committee's decision to strip the provision from the bill. Miller said she will not concur with the change when it is returned to the Senate. "There are some new members of Ways and Means that don't know the issues," she said. "Part of it is a learning experience for them."

Giller's report in yesterday's paper explained how the Family & Social Services Administration was seeking to curb the number of licensed nursing home beds in Indiana in order to keep costs down and improve care and the role Turner's family was playing in opposing it. Giller's original story was entitled, "Opposition to nursing home bill is all in the family." Gillers wrote in that story:

Jessaca Turner Stults, who testified at last week's Ways and Means Committee on behalf of nursing home developer Mainstreet Property Group, is a lobbyist and former FSSA attorney.

She's also Turner's daughter.

The chairman and CEO of Mainstreet, Paul "Zeke" Turner, also testified that it would be a bad idea to pass a bill curbing nursing home construction.

Zeke Turner is the lawmaker's son.

Eric Turner and his wife also are partners in Mainstreet Capital Partners LLC, which invests in Mainstreet Property Group.

And when the committee meets to amend and vote on the bill today, Turner plans to cast a vote -- and he plans to side with his children.

That all this could happen within the bounds of Indiana law paints a stark picture of just how cozy the relationship between state officials and industry can be in this state.
Giller's story notes Turner's daughter served as FSSA's general counsel immediately before going to work as a lobbyist for the nursing home industry. Apparently her employment doesn't violate the state's one-year revolving door law becasue she isn't lobbying the executive branch of government in which she served. Last year, I picked up on another story in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette questioning Turner's role in pushing legislation to privatize FSSA's welfare services and how his son's company wound up winning a contract to house a call center operated by ACS, the private contractor that operated the call center that Turner had pressed hard to have placed in his legislative district. Turner did not list on his financial disclosure statement his ownership interest in the company that owned the building in which the call center was housed. The company purchased the vacant school building from the Marion public schools for $350,000. After making improvements for the call center, it was assessed for a value of more than $7 million. Turner also insisted his daugther, then the general counsel for FSSA, played no part in the decisions relating to the call center lease agreement for the buidling in which he and his son had an ownership interest.


Jessica said...

I'm wondering why this is a big deal and why they asked Eric Turner to not vote on this legislation. There is a lot of legislation in which representatives have a personal stake, I guess this was just more out in the open. Everyone who ever votes on legislation considers what's in it for them. If they feel that their company truly "improves long term care," why wouldn't they oppose this legislation?

Advance Indiana said...

Agreed, it's a fine line for lawmakers to tread. Some people view legislation affecting heavily-regulated industries as deserving more scrutiny than other general business activities. The government decides through its licensure process who gets a license to operate long-term care facilities and who gets enrolled in Medicare/Medicaid funding upon which the facilities rely for most of their revenues.