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Government

What's Happening At The Statehouse: Only 5 Session Days Left

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Jim Nix
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https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimnix/5039079018

5:17 p.m. UPDATE:

ADOPTION RECORDS

Most children adopted in Indiana from 1941-1993 will have access to their birth records under a bill signed into law Friday by Gov. Mike Pence. 

The bill gives birth mothers from 1941-1993 four options.  They can tell the state to allow their children to contact them or they can bar contact entirely.  They can allow contact, but only through a third party.  Or they can just allow their children to access the mother’s medical records.

If a birth mother doesn’t reach out to the state – and the state doesn’t find them – the records are automatically opened.  In a statement, Gov. Pence says the measure ensures privacy is protected while allowing Hoosiers to seek more information on their health and heritage. 

The group Hoosiers for Equal Access to Records, which has long fought to open the records, praised the bill signing as a tremendous victory. 

The records won’t be opened until 2018, allowing the state and adoption advocates to inform as many birth mothers as possible of the change.  

5 p.m. UPDATE:

POLICE BODY CAMERAS

Lawmakers say they’re close to finalizing legislation regulating the release of police body camera videos to the public.  There’s just one big sticking point remaining --the bill requires law enforcement to prove to a judge why a body camera video shouldn’t be released to the public. 

However, it also requires the automatic release of videos that could involve excessive use of force or civil rights violations by police.  And that’s what concerns law enforcement officials and Rep. Kevin Mahan (R-Hartford City), the bill’s author. 

Mahan, a former county sheriff, says he’s worried about people who commit crimes just to get on the news.

“It may cause them to want to come out and all of a sudden get in a scuffle with law enforcement so that they know it’s automatically going to get released,” Mahan says.

Sen. Rod Bray (R-Martinsville), says even if the automatic release provision is removed, he thinks it’s still a good bill:

“Because you’re still going to have an avenue to get it,” Bray says. “And if the police agency decides, no, after their analysis, that you can’t get it, then you still have a review of a judge within 30 days – so it’s not a long, protracted process.”

Press organizations including the Indiana Broadcasters Association say they want to see the provision remain in the bill.  

METH & MEDICINE

House and Senate lawmakers are working out a few remaining issues with a bill aimed at curbing Indiana’s meth production.  The biggest sticking point is how much pseudoephedrine Hoosiers can buy without a prescription.

Under the bill, patients of record at a pharmacy can buy the cold medicine pseudoephedrine without a prescription.  Non-patients of record are more restricted – they can only buy a limited amount of pseudoephedrine drugs.  Otherwise, they have to get a prescription. 

But lawmakers are debating just what that limited amount should be.  The bill sets the limit at 720 milligrams a day – five times less than current law. 

And Rep. Ben Smaltz (R-Auburn), one of the bill’s authors, says he doesn’t want to see that changed.

“What we would be doing if we change that is simply putting in code what the existing situation is,” Smaltz says. “It doesn’t do anything, so we have to be careful that.”

The Senate author of the bill, Rep. Randy Head (R-Logansport), stresses that non-patients of record have no purchasing limits on drugs with a very small amount of pseudoephedrine in them – so-called “meth-resistant” drugs. 

Both lawmakers say they think a deal will be reached before the session ends next week.  

EARLIER:  

DAILY FANTASY SPORTS

House lawmakers Thursday took what might be their last vote this session on legislation regulating daily fantasy sports. 

The daily fantasy sports bill got quite a makeover in the House.  What was a $5,000 initial licensing fee for operators of the games is now a $50,000 fee.  The bill now has a provision creating a study committee this year that will examine how to require operators to withhold income taxes and overdue child support payments from its players’ winnings. 

Rep. Alan Morrison (R-Terre Haute), the measure’s sponsor, calls it a consumer protection bill.

“It’s aimed at ensuring that the close to one million Hoosiers who participate in daily fantasy sports are doing so with legitimate businesses on a level playing field,” Morrison says.

The House approved the measure 82-12, sending it back to the Senate.  The Senate author of the bill says he hopes his chamber will agree to the House’s changes and send the legislation to the governor. 

HEALTHCARE

House lawmakers Thursday approved a bill that would enshrine in state law Gov. Mike Pence’s health care program for low-income Hoosiers, HIP 2.0. But some – including supporters of the program – are concerned about the measure’s consequences.

Just about one year ago, Gov. Pence, after months of negotiations with the federal government, announced the creation of HIP 2.0.  Using money from the Affordable Care Act, it provides health insurance to low-income Hoosiers while allowing them to make payments into health savings accounts. 

More than 370,000 Hoosiers use the program.  And now, the governor and GOP lawmakers want to codify the entire program -- meaning to change any of it would require legislation in the future.  Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) says there’s something more important than embracing HIP 2.0 in law.

“Preserving the flexibility to everyone sitting in the governor’s office and their peers in Washington to work out a deal that works,” DeLaney says.

DeLaney wryly applauded his Republican colleagues for embracing the Affordable Care Act, or, as he put it, Obamacare.  Rep. Jerry Torr (R-Carmel) objects to that.

“What putting this into statute does is protects the significant difference between HIP 2.0 and Obamacare,” Torr says.

Republicans argue HIP 2.0’s health savings accounts promote more personal accountability than traditional Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act.

The House approved the measure 61-33, with four Republicans voting against it.  It heads back to the Senate. 

ROAD FUNDING

The House Thursday approved its road funding plan for the second time this session.  But, the legislation is different than last time -- and it lost a couple of Republican votes.

Thursday’s action is just another step in the legislative maneuvering between the House and Senate in the road funding debate.  In the first half of session, each chamber approved its own plan.  In the second half of session, the Senate changed the House bill to largely mirror its own proposal, and House lawmakers vice versa. 

But in trying to garner more support for the House’s more controversial plan –it raises the gas and cigarette taxes – representatives added funding for the Regional Cities Initiative and additional pension money to the bill.  Those moves – and Thursday’s vote – may not mean much though. 

Senate GOP Leader David Long (R-Fort Wayne) says his caucus isn’t changing its mind on the House plan.

“We don’t support the tax hikes at this time,” Long says. “We do think we need to study the situation.”

Still, Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso), the House plan’s architect, says the Senate’s plan is a short-term solution.

“Four years, it’s gone and we’ve delivered half of what’s needed to take care of what we’ve got and finish what we’ve started,” Soliday says.

Two Republicans switched their votes on the House plan this time around, joining all House Democrats in voting ‘no.’

MEDICAL MALPRACTICE

House lawmakers Thursday approved a bill that raises the amount a patient can get in a medical malpractice lawsuit.  The bill’s sponsor calls it a “once-in-a-generation” effort.

"Far from perfect, but better than it has been." That's how members of the House describe a bill that increases the cap on a medical malpractice award to $1.8 million by 2019 – up from its current limit of $1.25 million.

Proponents say that increase accounts for economic changes since 1999, when the cap was last raised. Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford) says it will protect the malpractice law from constitutional challenges.

Rep. Jerry Torr (R-Carmel), alluding to some of the pushback the bill received from doctor’s groups, says lawmakers arrived at a good compromise by removing additional cap increases that used to be in the bill.

“You’re not gonna make everybody jump up and down and talk about how happy they are,” Torr says. “But if everybody’s a little bit equally unhappy, then that’s kind of where we need to be.”

The bill passed 90-5. It now heads to conference committee.

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