News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

February 27, 2014

Editorial: Toward a better Lifeline Law

Lawmakers poised to improve measure

TERRE HAUTE — In a perfect world, no college or high school student under 21 would drink alcohol, especially to excess. No student would be sexually assaulted. And no student would experience a drug overdose.

There is no perfect world.

Each night on college campuses, students — who generally, see themselves as invincible — drink or do drugs and put themselves in situations that are perfect breeding grounds for trouble.

Sometimes that trouble is as simple as an argument or a shoving match. The loud words fade, cooler heads prevail.

But other times, someone, surrounded by those under 21, is in medical distress. That distress may be alcohol poisoning from life-threatening high blood-alcohol levels, perhaps an alcohol-and-prescription drug interaction, perhaps a booze-and-street-drug combination or perhaps a condition not directly related to alcohol. (The Indiana Department of Health says more than two dozen Hoosiers under 21 have died from alcohol poisoning since 2004.)

In those medical distress situations, there is no time to waste. If nothing is done, the result could be far worse than a hangover. It could be death.

As has happened too many times in Indiana and around the country, these under-21ers can go into a panic when someone falls ill. Panic about getting into trouble — because what they have done is against the law and they could face fines, jail time and school discipline.

James Merritt, an Indiana state senator, sees it this way: “What is happening is kids panic and don’t really know which way is up. We don’t want them to panic. Just because someone made a mistake, they should not pay with their life.”

Merritt, a Republican from Indianapolis, said that in October 2012, when he visited Terre Haute — along with Attorney General Greg Zoeller — to talk up a partial remedy for the situation that had passed that previous spring’s legislature: The Indiana Lifeline Law.

That law, which became effective July 1, 2012, allows immunity to those who call for help and stay around to help a friend in peril and cooperate with police and medics.

Now Merritt and others in the legislature are back at it, admirably so. They want to expand that immunity to those — under the influence, under age — who are victims of sexual offenses and those who would report a crime or seek medical attention for any reason.

That bill has passed the state Senate 49-0, and just Wednesday, an expanded version of the Senate bill passed the Indiana House 96-0. Because the two versions of the bill differ, the matter goes back to the house of origin — the Senate — for its consideration of changes made in the House.

The House changes would require that a legislative commission study the reporting and underreporting of domestic or sexual violence. The House version of the bill also would authorize qualified medical technicians and some emergency responders to administer an overdose intervention drug in the field.

Those additions are improvements to the original Senate bill. The unanimous approval to date in both houses of the legislature suggests that those differences will be quickly dealt with, and that a new law — as does the original law — will work even better to protect lives that, literally, are on the line.

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