INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Negotiations fell apart among Republican legislators Wednesday on a proposal that could have forced Indiana’s attorney general from office if his law license is suspended over allegations that he drunkenly groped four women.
Senate Republicans wouldn’t agree with a provision backed by the House and GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb that would have prohibited anyone whose law license has been suspended for at least 30 days from serving as attorney general. The proposal died as this year’s legislative session drew to an end late Wednesday.
The debate came as Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill awaits a decision from the state Supreme Court on whether he’ll face any punishment for the alleged professional misconduct.
The House voted 83-9 last week for provisions that would prohibit anyone whose law license has been suspended for at least 30 days from serving as attorney general. Former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby, who heard four days of testimony about the allegations in October, last month recommended that Hill’s law license be suspended for at least 60 days, writing that his “conduct was offensive, invasive, damaging and embarrassing” to the women.
Republican senators couldn’t agree on a removal process despite lengthy discussions, said Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray of Martinsville.
But Bray said “no” when asked whether some senators were protecting Hill.
“It is really a matter of respecting the political election process,” Bray said. “There were some folks that had a reluctance in doing anything at all because it is right on the heels of the election.”
House Speaker Todd Huston said earlier Wednesday the attorney general removal issue could be among the final ones decided and that House negotiators would be pushing for it.
“Obviously we passed it overwhelmingly, so we think it is good, appropriate language,” Huston said.
State law requires the attorney general to be “duly licensed to practice law in Indiana,” but it doesn’t specify whether the person can continue serving after facing professional disciplinary action.
Senate Republican leaders remained noncommittal on the removal proposal even as Holcomb endorsed it last week endorsed as providing “clarity and certainty.”
Hill, who is seeking reelection this year, has denied wrongdoing and has resisted calls for his resignation from Holcomb and other state Republican leaders. A special prosecutor declined to pursue criminal charges against Hill and a federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit filed by the women alleging sexual harassment and defamation by Hill. The judge ruled that the women didn’t establish that Hill violated federal law.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer, a Jasper Republican, floated a proposal that would prevent Hill from seeking reelection if the Supreme Court suspended his law license without automatic reinstatement, a punishment under which it could take a year for Hill to regain his license.
But that proposal never was brought up for a Senate vote.
Two other Republicans are challenging Hill for the GOP nomination, which will be decided during the state party convention in June.
Hill is accused of grabbing Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon’s buttocks and inappropriately touching and making unwelcome sexual comments toward three female legislative staffers - ages 23 to 26 at the time - during a party in March 2018 marking the end of that year’s legislative session.
The attorney general’s office said the removal provision “raises some legal concerns - and this kind of rushed proposal lacks transparency and leaves no opportunity for public input.”
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