image

By

and Leslie Bonilla Muniz

Indiana Capital Chronicle

March 13, 2023

Indiana has a part-time citizen legislature but roughly two dozen lawmakers indicated on the latest statement of economic interest forms filed in January that the legislature is their sole employer and reported no outside work.

Sen. Jean Breaux (above), D-Indianapolis, said she applied for many jobs outside of the General Assembly but several employers saw her role in the legislature as a conflict – both in terms of ethics and time commitments.

“In many ways, there’s always going to be a conflict of interest,” Breaux said. “I would recuse myself but a lot of people don’t do that.”

Breaux lost her previous job when she was elected in 2006 because she worked fostering economic development for the state and Indiana doesn’t permit employees to hold two positions.

Most of the legislators who don’t have outside employment are retired but others are prime working age.

The majority of Indiana’s lawmakers work other jobs — and draw from their expertise to craft legislation, from legal matters to education and more. But it also leads to fears that they could benefit themselves or their industries through the law.

Real estate was a common thread in the filings — with more than 30 lawmakers listing real estate investment, management, development or rental firms.

At least 10 lawmakers hold an insurance license, while another is an accountant and yet another is a licensed plumber. Two are retired physicians while one is active, some still hold their teaching licenses and one member even holds an auctioneer’s license.

Many are retired or are business owners who can make their own hours. Others, including doctors and teachers, must take a leave of absence during the legislative session.

Reading the forms

Both House and Senate legislators submit statements of economic interest annually, disclosing the businesses for which they work and in which they invest, alongside lobbying connections and more. But it’s unclear how much transparency they really promote.

Even for those who do work outside of the General Assembly, the form fails to capture certain nuances, such as whether a member is self-employed or working in an unpaid career.

Rep. Maureen Bauer, D-South Bend, planted grapes in 2020 but the crop takes three years to mature and hasn’t yet produced a profit.

Others, like Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, don’t have traditional employers but still work outside of the legislature – in her case, as an independent insurance agent.

Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, is a mediator but listed her practice as a business interest – the same place where she listed her stock holdings.

Some receive passive income, such as Rep. David Abbott, R-Rome City, who receives a dividend from a local grocery store or Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, who lists a farmhouse on AirBnB.

A handful of lawmakers are retired and drawing from pensions or other retirement funds.

Part-time pay?

Indiana is considered to have a “part-time” legislature, with a base salary just under $30,000. They are in session around four months in odd-numbered years and about 2 1/2 months in even-numbered years. But with per diem and leadership pay, legislator compensation averages roughly $70,000, higher than Indiana’s median full-time income of $62,000.

During the summer, lawmakers are members of various commissions and study committees or need to meet with constituents – meaning lawmakers have obligations year-round.

Special sessions, such as last summer’s and the redistricting session the year before, also add to the time spent outside of the statutorily defined session.

“It’s still a full-time job in the off-season,” Breaux said. “We should be full-time.”

Those who try to juggle another job often fall short, including Breaux’s own mother – Sen. Billie Breaux. The younger Breaux now holds the same seat her mother previously held.

“People think this is a part-time gig but it really isn’t,” Breaux said. “My mom, she was a teacher, and ultimately left because of that … she had so much to do as a legislator that she was spending too much time out of the classroom.”

Professions run the gamut – from attorneys to farmers

Few members of the General Assembly have legal training despite their role writing the state’s laws.

About 20 of the body’s 150 lawmakers have law licenses and most work in the legal industry, according to data in Indiana’s legislator database and roll of attorneys. Two legislator licenses are inactive but “in good standing.”

Most of the attorneys work in law offices or are self-employed. Some work for educational institutions, like Rep. Regan Hatcher, D-Gary, who lists Indiana University as her employer. Sen. Rodney Pol, D-Chesterton, works for the city of Gary. House Democrat Leader Phil GiaQuinta works for Fort Wayne City Utilities.

Each chamber’s judiciary committee has the highest concentration of lawyers serving and deep dives into the legal minutiae often feels like a courtroom battle.

Builders who have prominent roles on related committees or that carry pro-development bills have repeatedly come under fire for perceived ethical qualms.

Farming interests are also represented in the legislature.

Three lawmakers reported working for farms directly, while Rep. Kendall Culp, R-Rensselaer, is an Indiana Farm Bureau leader. Culp and more lawmakers also said they had financial stakes in largely family-owned farms.

These lawmakers often highlight their farming experiences in committee or on the floor, advancing legislation that would study farmland loss in Indiana or let landowners ignore “restrictive” state floodplain maps meant to fill holes in a federal map.

Some professionals in other industries are mostly retired but keep their licenses active, like Rep. Dennis Zent – the only dentist in the governing body. (Though freshman Rep. Lindsay Patterson, R-Brookville, has a dental hygienist license.)

Zent, R-Angola, said he keeps his dentistry license active and occasionally conducts examinations or teaches. Keeping it active, he said, allows him to stay connected to the industry and bolsters his Statehouse work on behalf of the profession.

Candy and dogs

A smattering of lawmakers work in unique industries, like candy-maker Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica. She’s owned Wolf’s Homemade Candies since 1996, and lists it as an outside employer.

A lawmaker one also might expect to work in the confectionary industry – Rep. Lorissa Sweet, R-Wabash – actually owns the dog-grooming company Sweet Grooms and wedding rentals firm Sweet Occasions.

Rep. Stacey Donato, R-Logansport, also works with animals — she listed veterinarian services company JHAADVM as an employer — alongside her work as an automotive dealership accountant at the family’s Donato & Sons Motors.

Some lawmakers work in high-tech industries, like Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis, who listed city “climate action” software company Climate View as her employer.

Some work in far graver industries: Rep. Mark Genda, R-Frankfort, and Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Mishawaka, both own funeral homes. Mishler also listed a granite memorial company and a cremation company as business entities.

On a lighter note: Sen. Jean Leising, a farm-linked lawmaker championing rural Hoosiers, also runs travel agency Adventures in Travel. And though Rep. Bob Morris works in nutrition sales, he also listed a fireworks company as a business entity: Best Bang LLC.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Niki Kelly for questions: info@indianacapitalchronicle.com.

 

Want to stay informed after the election?

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Related Posts