This week, House Speaker Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) announced that he'll be supporting a bill that places tougher restrictions of lobbyists, offering greater transparency for the public. I'm very optimistic that this legislation has a chance to pass this year. I have been working since 2003 to tighten the regulations on lobbyists and their efforts to persuade legislation in their favor. For such a bill to finally pass will be a relief.
In 2008, I co-authored House Bill 1063, which would have prevented members of the General Assembly or candidates for legislative office from accepting gifts from lobbyists. HB 1063 also stated that members of the General Assembly would not be allowed to leave office and immediately become a lobbyist. There would be a "cooling off period" of two years after their term ended. These are just a couple examples of bills that Speaker Bauer has blocked from consideration by not allowing it to come to House floor for debate and a vote.
While I fully support Speaker Bauer's announcement this week, I am confused as to why it took him so long for him to realize the need for these reforms. For the past six years, four of which he served as Speaker, he never brought any lobbyist reform bills to the house floor for debate.
Please do not misunderstand me-the role lobbyists serve in is not inherently bad. In fact, they play a very important part in the legislative process. Lobbyists are able to provide legislators with information about the business they represent, and provide expert testimony in committees. This helps legislators better understand the effects of purposed legislation so they can make a more educated decision when voting.
If these stricter rules are adopted, it will ensure that interactions with lobbyists are conducted ethically. It will give Hoosiers the peace of mind that the people they have trusted to make important decisions aren't unfairly influenced by those with money or power. As we approach the 2010 legislative session, it's my hope that the legislature continues to move forward in the area of ethics reform.