One of the secrets of the legislative process that many private citizens don't know is that is can take years to build awareness and finally get legislation passed. Or not.

State Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, is beginning that process with Senate Bill 289, which addresses legislative ethics, particularly interactions with lobbyists.

"Things when you introduce them in Indiana take time to build support," he said.

That's why he's hoping Senate President David Long will allow his legislation to have a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee, which Long chairs.

SB 289 would restrict the ability of lobbyists to provide gifts to legislators. Delph singles out representatives of universities who are fond of giving legislators free tickets to basketball and football games. Indiana University basketball tickets might not be as valuable as they were when the school was winning national championships, but they still are tempting to legislators who are sports fans.

Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause, zeroed in on the gifts lobbyists give to legislators.

"Stopping gifts from lobbyists to legislators would be such a culture shock you would feel the jolt all the way up in Valpo!" she said Thursday. "Banning gifts would be an admission that maybe they are influenced by them, and they won't admit that."

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway also gave legislators and their guests free tickets to the Indianapolis 500, then went hat in hand to ask for special benefits to improve the racetrack in 2013. The legislators eagerly agreed to help.

Delph's plan also would require lobbyists to keep careful records of their interactions with legislators. That might prove more difficult than it seems.

Hoosier State Press Association Executive Director Steve Key told me Thursday that he often will find himself in an elevator with a legislator and have a short conversation. Under Delph's legislation, even that kind of brief chat would have to be documented.

Vaughn supports that reform.

"I particularly like the part of the bill that would require legislators to post their interactions with lobbyists — clever way around the legislators' refusal to comply with the public records law and give the public access to their Statehouse emails," Vaughn said.

Access to those email accounts should be granted to the public. That's really the reform the public needs to gain a clearer picture of how the special interests are influencing legislators' decisions.

Delph wants his legislation to pass, in some future session, to make legislators more responsive to their constituents than to special interests. But will it ever happen? Here's Vaughn's take on it:

"Needed, sensible, not going to happen."

Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.


Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.