Today At The Statehouse: The 2016 Session's Final Days

Mar 8, 2016

Credit Noah Coffey / https://www.flickr.com/photos/noahwesley/

BMV FEES  

Legislators should take a final vote this week on making license branch trips cheaper and easier.

Two million motorcyclists, truckers and bus owners will see their costs go down as dozens of fees are eliminated entirely.

BMV general counsel Adam Krupp says Hoosiers who own only a car probably won’t see their costs change – but they could.

“You might move and per law, you’re required to update your driver’s license -- you need to have a current address on there,” Krupp says. “We’re streamlining all of those fees for those, I call them ‘miscellaneous transactions:’ a duplicate, an amendment, a replacement.”

And he says the streamlined list of charges should restore trust in the BMV, which was damaged by the discovery of millions of dollars in overcharges and undercharges during the last decade.

The incorrect bills have sparked a pair of class-action lawsuits.

The Bureau has blamed the incorrect charges on a tangled web of sometimes contradictory fees in state law.

And Krupp says 163 fees will be eliminated entirely.

“Under current code, for certain farm permits that we’re required to do particular activities, they would have to go to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and obtain a permit, either for 30 days or 71 days,” Krupp says. “It was such a limited transaction, so few of them were performed, we just eliminated it altogether.”

Legislators and the BMV spent two years combing through all the fees to produce the 400-page reform bill.

The revised fees have sailed through the House and Senate unchanged, but legislators are ironing out some final language on mobile homes and obstructed views at railroad crossings.

STATE PARK ALCOHOL PERMITS

A bill that would allow alcohol permits at state parks without local input was sent to the Governor’s desk Monday. The bill has a particular impact on the Indiana Dunes park.

Proposed development at the Dunes pavilion sparked criticism from residents and environmental groups. The plans include restoring the existing pavilion and adding a restaurant and banquet facility nearby.

A local board rejected the developers’ liquor license application, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission later upheld the rejection in an appeal.

Dunes Action co-founder Desi Robertson says if Pence signs HB 1386, that won’t matter.

“The passage of this bill sends a very negative message to local communities near state parks,” Robertson says. “Not just here at the Indiana Dunes, but across the state. This can affect any state park.”

An amendment to the bill copies language from other bills and amendments that failed to pass the House and/or Senate. It says that the ATC can issue a permit to a state park without publication of notice or investigation by a local board.

That means the developer could reapply for a liquor license and circumvent opposition from the local board that originally rejected their application.

Dunes Action has been asking people to let Gov. Pence know that they want him to veto the bill when it arrives on his desk.

But Robertson says they won’t stop fighting to prevent the development at the Dunes even if Pence decides to sign the bill into law.

“There are still other issues besides the alcohol,” Robertson says. “We are going to hold them to the letter of the law in terms of the land and water conservation fund.”

It’s unclear when Pence will decide whether to sign or veto the bill. 

MEDICAL MALPRACTICE

The Senate Tuesday, with unanimous approval, sent a bill to the governor reforming Indiana’s medical malpractice system.  The legislation looked like it would die until about a week ago.

The medical malpractice cap – a limit of how much one patient can get – hasn’t been raised in nearly two decades. That prompted concerns about the system’s constitutionality, and advocates and stakeholders spent the summer trying to craft a solution.  

But the solution almost died this session when stakeholders couldn’t agree.  Then, on the final day for committee work, lawmakers resurrected the measure.  Sen. Brent Steele (R-Bedford), who led that effort, says everyone is now on board.

“The Indiana Trial Lawyers, the Indiana Health Care Association, the Indiana Hospital Association and the Indiana State Medical Association all were in agreement,” Steele says.

The bill raises the cap in 2017 and again in 2019, topping out at a new limit of $1.8 million.  Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) says that’s still not enough:

“If you think that, by the time four years from now, you’re only worth one-point-eight million dollars, think again,” Taylor says.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for his approval.  

TELEMEDICINE

Lawmakers in both chambers Tuesday approved a bill that expands Indiana’s “telemedicine” services.  The measure headed to the governor is about delivering health care without in-person visits to a doctor.

Telemedicine is health care delivered remotely.  Doctors and patients can use, for instance, videoconferencing instead of a face-to-face appointment.  And lawmakers this session are expanding its use by allowing doctors, physician assistants, advanced practice nurses and optometrists to write some prescriptions via telemedicine. 

They can’t write prescriptions for controlled substances, drugs such as oxycodone and morphine.  But some legislators still balked at how far the bill went -- and Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer (R-Beech Grove), the measure’s author, says the final product provided more limitations.

“No vision provider can provide glasses or contacts online via telemedicine,” Kirchhofer says.

The final bill also subjects telemedicine providers located out of the state to Indiana’s laws and jurisdiction -- so if a Hoosier patient sues an Ohio doctor who provided them telemedicine services, that case would go to an Indiana court.  

OPIOID ADDICTION TREATMENT

Right now, if someone seeking addiction treatment goes to a methadone clinic, they might be given methadone. But under SB 297, patients who show up to a treatment center will get assessed and hopefully put on the best treatment plan for them. That could mean methadone. Or it could mean a different medication, such as Suboxone or Vivitrol, other drugs that can help fight addiction.  

Steve McCaffrey is president of Mental Health America. He says the guidelines under the bill could improve the state’s ability to combat its opioid epidemic.  

“We know that when you do disjointed treatment like we’ve done historically, the success rate of about 10- to 20-percent," McCaffrey says. "We know that when you do it in a comprehensive way, it jumps up to over 60-percent.”

Indiana’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction will have until the end of the year to create new guidelines for addiction treatment providers.