- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The leader of the Indiana House Education Committee has formed a lobbying company to represent clients in the education field and is seeking approval for a contract with a testing company that does business with the state.

The Indiana House speaker said Wednesday he discouraged Rep. Robert Behning from trying to sign up education-related businesses as clients.

Behning formed Berkshire Education Strategies last June and has sought approval from the House Ethics Committee for a contract under which he would represent student-testing company Questar in Oklahoma, The Indianapolis Star reported (https://indy.st/1yHR4Ss ). Questar is being paid $6.4 million this year to create and run Indiana’s tests that high school students must pass in order to graduate.

Behning, R-Indianapolis, said he intended to only represent clients outside of Indiana.

“We’re trying to put together a contract that’s very clear nothing would be done in Indiana, even in the potential (ethics) changes, I don’t think I would fall under any,” Behning told the newspaper. “It’s a citizen legislature and you’re going to have conflicts, regardless. There’s probably bigger conflicts in the Legislature.”

Republican House leaders last week introduced a bill under which lawmakers would face more financial disclosure requirements and be required to disclose whether they are lobbying in another state.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said he could not tell lawmakers what to do outside of the Legislature.

“We don’t dictate to people what they do in their private business lives,” Bosma said. “We can encourage or discourage it. I’d say we discouraged this one. But citizen legislators are free to engage in the business activities they choose to engage in.”

The proposed tightening of disclosure requirements follows December’s resignation of former Republican House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, who was the subject of an ethics investigation after he privately lobbied lawmakers to kill a proposed ban on nursing home construction that could have hurt his family’s business.

House Ethics Committee Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, said the panel received a copy of Behning’s contract with Questar last week and was in the process of reviewing it.

Steuerwald said the ethics committee was trying to follow the tighter proposed rules and that Behning has followed its aim of disclosing out-of-state lobbying.

“This is what we want people to do,” Steuerwald told The Associated Press. “We want people to bring the issue to us beforehand so we can take a look at it and decide whether or not to issue a clearance letter.”

As Education Committee chairman, Behning has played a key role in legislation - including creation of the state’s private-school voucher program and new evaluations for teachers using students’ standardized test scores.

State Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said in a statement that Behning was trying to profit off relationships he’s built as a legislator.

“Speaker Brian Bosma must find ways to better keep his caucus in line - ‘discouraging’ behavior isn’t enough,” Zody said.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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