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Lawmaker takes job with firm at center of vaping controversy

September 16, 2016

An Indiana lawmaker who voted two years in a row for legislation that put one private company in control of who could manufacture e-liquid for sale in Indiana has now gone to work for a division of that firm.

Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Terre Haute, said he sees no conflict of interest in taking a job with a division of Mulhaupt’s, the Lafayette firm that is at the center of the controversial law regulating the vaping industry.

But Morrison acknowledged that—if reelected—he will have to recuse himself from future votes about the vaping issue or on legislation that would affect Mulhaupt’s.

“Without a doubt I would” recuse myself, Morrison said. “I would expect anybody, whether they work for whatever company, if there was a bill being discussed that directly related to that organization, that legislator is expected to recuse (him or herself).”

Legislative leaders have pledged to rethink the vaping law after it became clear it gave Mulhaupt’s a monopoly over the security provisions in the law. The FBI is also probing the law’s passage and implementation to determine if any corruption was involved.

In May, Morrison started working for General Alarm Co., a division of Mulhaupt’s, as a sales consultant.

Laws passed in 2015 and 2016 created narrow rules, which only Mulhaupt’s could satisfy, for the security firms that certify e-liquid makers selling the “juice” used in e-cigarettes in Indiana. The law required those manufacturers to sign a five-year contract with a security firm.

Manufacturers were out of luck if Mulhaupt’s opted not to work with them and the law prohibits any new company from getting into the e-liquids market that wasn’t licensed by July 1.

Morrison said he didn’t believe voting in favor of the two pieces of legislation in 2015 and 2016—and then taking a job at a division of a company that clearly benefitted—constituted a conflict of interest.

“I sell residential and commercial-grade alarm systems,” Morrison said. “I have nothing to do with e-liquids or the monitoring of them or anything like that. To say that I benefited would be more than a stretch.”

Morrison said it was a “pretty easy decision” to vote for the original e-liquid bill in 2015 because it was explained to him as regulating “a dangerous product if not watched in a sufficient way.”

He was among the majority of his colleagues that voted yes on House Bill 1432, as the final bill passed 85-9 out of the House.

The 2016 iteration of the vaping bill, which made a few changes to the security firm language, was combined with several other matters, including whether to allow alcohol to be sold at the Indiana Dunes State Park. Morrison said he voted yes on that bill because of the Dunes issue. That bill passed out of the House 86-10.

After leaving his job in June 2015 as a gift officer at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Morrison said he “let it be known to any and every person that I worked with, whether that be lobbyists in the hallways, people in Legislative Services Agency, (or) people in the business community” that he was looking for a job.

Morrison told IBJ he ultimately got the lead about the General Alarm job from Kurt Wilson, executive vice president of Centaur Gaming.

IBJ previously reported that Centaur, which owns the state’s two horse-racing casinos and a few off-track betting facilities, has connections to half of the e-liquid manufacturers that were initially approved by the state do to business in Indiana after the law’s passage.

Morrison in 2015 introduced two ultimately unsuccessful bills that would have benefited Centaur properties. One would have allowed for sports betting at the state’s casinos, racinos and OTBs if it became legal under federal law, and another would have offered fantasy sports games at Centaur’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in Anderson and Indiana Grand Racing & Casino in Shelbyville.

House Speaker Brian Bosma was unavailable to comment on the issue. His spokeswoman told IBJ he was out of the country and unreachable.

But David Orentlicher, a former legislator and professor at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, said Morrison’s new position and how he acquired it is “absolutely troubling."

“You wouldn’t go out in the hallway and say, ‘I’m having trouble with my mortgage payment,’” Orentlicher said. “It’s an indirect way of doing the same kind of thing. You shouldn't be leveraging your public office to get a new job. You’re supposed to be using your position to benefit your constituents.”

Orentlicher acknowledged that conflicts of interest may be inevitable in a part-time Legislature but said this situation goes “beyond what we have to accept.”

“You don’t want the public to have to worry about the integrity of their Legislature,” Orentlicher said. “Unfortunately we still have to worry.”

Morrison, who will face former Democratic state Sen. Tim Skinner in this November’s election for the District 42 House seat, said there’s an “unfortunate perception” that lawmakers don’t have to work.

 “I’m just a guy selling alarm systems trying to make a living for his family,” Morrison said. “It’d be pretty shocking to see it made into anything else.”•
 

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