ELKHART — A new Indiana law that gives immunity to teen drinkers may be changing.
The Lifeline law, authored by State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, went into effect in 2012. It says that a person younger than 21 who’s been drinking can call for help for a drunk friend needing medical attention, without fear of being prosecuted for minor consumption or other alcohol-related offenses.
Merritt, who’s been traveling to college campuses across the state to promote the law, announced on Thursday, Oct. 24, that he wants to expand the law based on feedback he’s heard from college students.
“The overriding input I get is that kids aren’t doctors, and how do they know if (the friend’s medical problem) isn’t drugs, or maybe the person hit their head or something,” Merritt said during an interview on Friday, Oct. 25. “What I’m going to propose (to the Indiana General Assembly) is that rather than (the law) being focused on alcohol, we are going to broaden the law and say that ... if the friend is not responsive, make the call.”
Merritt said that this is “a common-sense change.”
“The spirit of this law is that kids make mistakes, and you need to help one another and be good Samaritans,” he said. “This (change) takes down the barrier of judging if that person laying on the floor has had alcohol. It just says, if someone is needing medical attention, call 911. And if you’ve had alcohol, you have immunity.”
The law does require the caller to cooperate with authorities and remain on the scene until police or emergency medical personnel arrive.
Merrit said that immunity for the caller is basically a trade for the caller’s knowledge of the situation. For example, the caller may be able to tell first responders what the person had been drinking, and how much — or other details about the situation. These details, Merritt said, could save the person’s life.
Merritt will present these changes to the Lifeline Law to the Indiana General Assembly when the legislative session begins in January.
Ed Windbigler, investigator for the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s office, said in September that underage drinking is a problem locally. He added that he believes most people in Elkhart County don’t know about the Lifeline law.
To find out more about the Lifeline law, visit www.indianalifeline.org.