INDIANAPOLIS | State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, is eager to spread the word to college students, and all Hoosiers, about new additions to Indiana's innovative Lifeline Law — once it's signed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence.
Senate Enrolled Act 227, co-sponsored by state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, and state Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, immunizes underage drinkers from arrest or prosecution if they call police to report any medical emergency, that they were a victim of sexual assault or a witness to a crime.
Currently, immunity only is provided to underage drinkers calling for emergency assistance for another person medically endangered by alcohol consumption.
"We feel like this is a very, very important change, and I think anyone on an Indiana university campus ... or anywhere that college students are, they will agree with this," Merritt said.
The Merritt-sponsored measure also was championed by Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller.
He and Merritt plan to speak this fall at as many college orientations as will have them, to ensure students know it's always best to call for help — even if they've been drinking illegally.
"That newfound freedom and alcohol and socializing ... we find that can be a real problem," Merritt said. "We want to embrace them and let them know that their newfound freedom is something that we appreciate, but we don't want them to squander their college education."
The state does not track how many underage drinkers were not prosecuted for misdemeanor illegal consumption or public intoxication due to the Lifeline Law.
Anecdotal reports from multiple universities indicate several likely underage drinking deaths were prevented because fellow underage drinkers called for an ambulance.
The legislation, which Pence is expected to sign later this month, also permits first responders to use naloxone to reverse the effects of heroin overdose and requires the state study the prevalence of sexual violence against Hoosier girls.