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Editorial: State law saves lives only when it’s utilized

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As college students head back to campus, it’s a good time to remind them of the Indiana Lifeline Law.

When the General Assembly passed the law two years ago, the goal was to encourage minors to call for help by giving them immunity from being prosecuted for certain crimes, including underage drinking. Getting the law passed was only half the battle, though. Making sure young people know about the protections is the other key piece, state officials and proponents say.

The original Lifeline Law, which legislators approved in 2012, gave immunity to minors on certain charges — public intoxication, minor possession, minor consumption and minor transport — if they call for help for someone who has been drinking and needs medical attention. They extended the bill this spring to also grant immunity for minors calling for anyone needing medical help or to report a crime.

David Rosenthal, a former Purdue University student who helped lead the effort to enact the law and who helped operate the website IndianaLifeline.org, said he doesn’t know of any data showing how much the law has been used since it was enacted but added that he has heard from some people who it did help.

“We do get some people that say, ‘I was in this situation, and I was able to use it, thank you,’” Rosenthal said.

The law is not meant as carte blanche for underage drinking. Indiana’s alcohol laws are clear. But the Lifeline Law is needed because people are afraid that they’re going to get in trouble. It’s important they have a mechanism to call and get help.

State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, who sponsored the Lifeline bill, has toured the state to promote the law at college campuses and high schools. His office said he is planning another round of tours for the fall semester and has sent a letter to Indiana universities to ask them to tell their students about the law and about the possibility of having him and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller speak about the law on campus.

Brian Corbin, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, encouraged schools to visit makegooddecisions.info, where they can submit a form to have Merritt, Zoeller or others come speak.

“The idea is it’s a continual process to educate young people about this,” Corbin said.

He added that officials can’t plan on visiting colleges just once as each incoming class of freshmen will need to learn about the law for it to be most effective, which is why state officials created the website and have continued to reach out to colleges. It’s up to the institutions, though, to move forward.

“It’s really up to each campus how they schedule it,” Corbin said. “I know we’re happy to provide it.”

More than two dozen Hoosiers younger than 21 have died from alcohol poisoning since 2004, according to the Indiana Department of Health. Had the Lifeline Law been in effect, it’s possible some of them might have been saved.

It is important for young people to know that calling 911 to save someone’s life will not get them in legal trouble themselves. The Lifeline Law will be useful only if it’s used.

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