By Tim Grimes
A tragic accident on Lake Monroe two years ago has led to a new state law that makes boating while under the influence of drugs punishable by jail time and a $500 fine.
The law takes effect July 1, along with a host of other measures the General Assembly approved earlier this year. But none has a more moving back story than the proposal pushed by Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford.
Ryan Collier called Steele two years ago after his wife and grandson were killed in an accident. The couple had been on Lake Monroe fishing with their grandsons - triplets - when their boat was struck by one piloted by a man under the influence of marijuana. At the time, that wasn't against the law.
"The law read that if they'd been in a car, they'd been arrested," Collier said.
The second boat drove away without stopping but police eventually tracked down the driver, Winston Wood of Bloomington. Tests revealed he'd been using pot but not alcohol. That meant he was charged only with leaving the scene of an accident - not for boating under the influence - and was convicted earlier this month.
The accident led Steele to push for changes. The new law makes it a Class C misdemeanor to boat while under the influence of illegal drugs. It also aligns the new crime with current law regarding driving under the influence of drugs. The penalty is up to 60 days in prison and a maximum fine of $500.
"We have a lot of problems (on Lake Monroe). It's a party lake," Collier said. "Hopefully, this will make people think twice before using drugs on the lake."
Other laws that will take effect July 1 cover a wide range of topics including higher education, nepotism and conflict of interest and a phase out of the inheritance tax.
Two new laws could be helpful to military families. House Enrolled Act 1059 extends the period that families can draw assistance from Indiana's Military Relief Fund.
Lawmakers established the relief fund in 2009 but it originally only covered families for one year. Under the new law, military families can now pull from the fund for three years.
Rep. Jim Baird, R-New Castle, who served in the Vietnam War as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, authored the bill.
"If you have been in combat, it takes awhile to adjust to civilian life," Baird said earlier this year about the legislation. "When active military return to their families, it may take longer than a year to adjust to life at home. This legislation allows that cushion of adjustment time."
HEA 1116 will award educational credit to those that served in the military or the reserves for their military service.
It also allows an occupational or professional board to issue a license, certification, registration or permit to a military person or the spouse of a veteran who meets certain requirements.
HEA 1220 is meant to curtail so-called credit creep, when universities add credits to majors and minors that force students to stay in school longer and rack up higher tuition bill.
The new law will give the Indiana Commission for Higher Education more authority to review majors that require credits that exceed 120 credits for bachelor's degrees and 60 for associate degrees.
HEA 1141 will provide roughly $4 million more annually to help low-income families pay their utility bills and eliminate the sales tax those families now pay on their heating bills.
The law uses money from Indiana's share of a multi-state mortgage foreclosure settlement to boost funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which is otherwise funded through a federal block grant.
The money will be used to offset the elimination of the 7 percent sales tax the state collects on utility bills paid for with LIHEAP funding.
Inheritance tax phase-out
SEA 293 would phase out the tax over the next nine years starting in 2013. It also adds a number of exemptions to the current law.
The bill, once fully phased in, is estimated to keep as much as $165 million in the pockets of taxpayers each year.
Indiana is the only state that does not exempt direct descendants' children and grandchildren from paying the inheritance tax. Indiana's neighboring states, Michigan and Ohio, do not have inheritance taxes and Kentucky does not tax on transfers to children.
Two laws will ban local government employees from serving on elected boards that control their salaries and prohibit public officials from hiring relatives they will supervise.
HEA 1005 addresses nepotism and conflict of interest at the local level. HEA 1250 addresses nepotism and conflict of interest at the state level.
HEA 1003 gives the Indiana Commission on Public Records the power to define electronic records and set retention schedules for other types of records.
SEA 274 grants limited immunity to so-called good Samaritans who seek help for friends who have overindulged by drinking too much alcohol or using drugs.
The law means that an individual who calls 911 or assists with emergency help could not be prosecuted for minor consumption, public intoxication or consumption in a car, bus or other transportation.
However, it would not provide immunity to minors for more serious crimes, such as drunk driving or possession of drugs. It doesn't provide immunity to the minor who needed help either.
Tim Grimes is a reporter for TheStathouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.