Statehouse Review

Indiana house legislation on needle exchange, and a balanced budget amendment moves forward, while Senate proposals on “baby boxes” and e-cigarette liquids advance.


House passes needle exchange bill addressing HIV outbreak

Indiana lawmakers have approved a measure that would allow high-risk counties to create needle exchange programs following an HIV outbreak in southern Indiana.

Health officials say 89 people who either live in Scott County or have ties to it have tested positive for HIV.

House members voted 54-39 Monday to allow counties with high rates of hepatitis C to establish needle exchange programs. Such high rates are a key indicator of needle sharing.

Indiana prohibits needle exchange programs, but Gov. Mike Pence authorized a short-term program in Scott County.

Supporters say it would help prevent diseases from spreading in all high-risk areas by allowing people to exchange used needles for clean ones.

Opponents say lawmakers should first see how Scott County’s program works before allowing it elsewhere.

Indiana Senate approves study of ‘baby boxes’ proposal

 The Indiana Senate has approved a bill calling for additional study on the possibility of setting up “baby boxes” for women to anonymously surrender their newborns.

Senators voted unanimously Tuesday to call on agencies including the Indiana State Health Department to review questions about the use of the boxes, awareness programs for Indiana’s current safe haven program, and laws regarding emergency custody of abandoned children.

The safe haven law allows unharmed newborns to be surrendered at places including hospitals and fire stations without fear of prosecution. Supporters of the baby boxes proposed them as a last resort for those unwilling to surrender a child in person.

The study findings are to be finished before next year’s legislative session. House approval is still needed for the bill.


House panel approves Pence’s balanced budget amendment

 Gov. Mike Pence’s request for a proposed balanced budget constitutional amendment has cleared a legislative committee after first hitting a bump.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-5 Tuesday to advance the proposal a couple hours after the panel originally deadlocked 5-5 on it.

Two Republicans who were absent for the initial vote supported the proposal, which would prohibit the state from spending more than its anticipated tax collections. Lawmakers could suspend that requirement with two-thirds approval in both the House and Senate.

Two Republicans joined three committee Democrats in voting against the proposal.

Supporters say the measure would ensure responsible spending and catch Indiana up with most other states that have similar requirements.

The state constitution already largely bans Indiana from incurring debt, and Democrats say the amendment isn’t needed.


Indiana Senate backs rules for e-cigarette liquids 

 Legislators are backing Indiana’s first regulations for the liquids used in electronic cigarettes and the practice known as “vaping.”

State senators voted 33-15 on Tuesday to endorse the proposal. Its provisions include banning sales to those younger than 18, establishing manufacturing safety standards and requiring child-proof and tamper-proof caps on containers.

Several owners of vaping-related businesses have said it could cost them thousands of dollars to comply with the proposed regulations.

Bill sponsor Sen. Carlin Yoder of Middlebury says he believes the proposal brings safe and fair regulations to the business.

The bill doesn’t include any limits on where electronic cigarettes may be used.

The House approved a similar bill last month. The House and Senate must agree on a final version to send it to the governor for consideration.