Senator Patricia Miller (R-Indy) is a very, and I cannot underscore that enough, very powerful Senator in the Indiana Senate. She chairs the Senate Health and Provider Relations committee, and is therefore very influential in all areas of health and healthcare policy for the state. She is also powerful in other areas. Some credit her with putting together a coalition that ultimately chose Senate Pro Tempore, David Long, as leader of the Senate. Therefore, today’s news of the death of her bill to require a cooling off period for legislators (one year) before they can become lobbyists, comes as somewhat of a shock.
Sen. Marvin Riegsecker, the Goshen Republican who controlled the bill’s fate as chairman of the Senate Public Policy Committee, said he killed the proposal because he and other senators were angered by comments that “we’re taking money under the table. That’s the interpretation we had.”
Those members of the public who had pushed for the bill say they were talking about the legislature’s image, not making specific accusations.
“I guess we read between the lines,” Riegsecker said. “Either way, it angered my fellow senators, so I wasn’t going to subject them to a vote. I don’t think the bill would have passed anyway.”
It has elsewhere.
Twenty-six states have enacted one- or two-year cooling-off periods for lawmakers.
In Indiana, more than 30 former lawmakers have registered as lobbyists, including four former speakers of the House.
Supporters of the cooling-off period were optimistic when Miller’s bill was granted a hearing before the Senate Public Policy Committee.
Vaughn said she made sure members of the public came to testify, so lawmakers couldn’t say people didn’t care about such issues.
But, she said, the lawmakers were hostile “from the get-go.”
“To be honest, it almost seemed to me that they wanted to be offended so that they would have an excuse not to deal with the problem,” said Patricia Wittberg, a sociology professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and a Catholic nun, who came to testify.
Wittberg said that throughout her 18 years of teaching, when she talks to her students about legislators representing them “in a fair and just way, and not influenced by special interests, the students laugh. They laugh.”
It was those words that Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville, found among the most offensive.
“The testimony was so nasty and mean and personal that the committee members were furious,” she said. “It was a very unpleasant confrontation. That’s not how you get legislation passed around here.”
Sandra Mowell, a member of the League of Women Voters who also testified, said it was lawmakers who were “rather nasty.”
“I thought they just reacted rather violently without a whole lot of provocation toward us,” she said. “People in elective office may say they want people to participate in this process, but I went away with the definite opinion that that’s just talk.”
Miller said she may file the bill again next year.
Senate President Pro Tempore David C. Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the legislature will at some point have to take up the issue.
“I do think we’re going to have to take a hard look at how Indiana compares to other states and ultimately address particularly the issue of how soon you can go out into the hall and lobby,” he said.