Ban on holding cellphone while driving among new laws


Come Wednesday, drivers cannot have their phones in their hands while they are driving.

“If you’ve got a device in your hand, you could be pulled over,” State Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper said, “similar to not wearing a seat belt.”

There are quite a few Indiana laws that will go into effect July 1. But this one is the one that has been most public.

“It will hopefully reduce the amount of traffic accidents and deaths by reducing the amount of distracted driving,” said State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper.

State legislators representing Dubois County said the goal is to get people to stop using their phones for things like texting while they are driving. Indiana already had a ban on texting while driving, but the rule was hard for police to enforce, legislators said.

“It’s not a perfect bill,” Lindauer said. “I just view it as if you’re driving a vehicle and you’re texting or something to that effect, you’re taking potentially other people’s lives in your hands. This becomes another matter of not just your own life, or anybody riding in your vehicle, but the person walking down the street or on a bicycle or in the car in the next lane.”

He mentioned that police can use discretion when enforcing the law.

“It’s not that you can’t use the device,” Lindauer said. “You can still use your cellphone if you’re doing GPS. You still [can] do the talk-to-text stuff. You can still call 911.”

Legislators pointed out a few other new laws that people should be aware of.

Hospitals and medical providers must be transparent in disclosing the costs for procedures before a patient has a procedure done.

“This is to provide some protections for people when they would go to the hospital or doctor, from surprise billing,” Lindauer said, “and provide somewhat of a free market opportunity for people to maybe shop around. You will have a better idea on what things were going to cost.”

Those costs will be in an all payer claims database. “This database requires hospitals, outpatient surgery centers and urgent care clinics to publish their average prices online,” said State Rep. Steve Bartels, R-Eckerty.

Another law requires companies involved in bulk pharmaceutical purchases to disclose the discounts they get from manufacturers to the groups they are contracted with; also the companies will have to be licensed pharmacy benefit managers with the state.

“This bill also allows for retail pharmacies to appeal to the state Department of Insurance if a reimbursement rate to them from a PBM is below the market price for a drug,” Messmer said. “All of these changes should have the long-term effect of lowering medical costs for Hoosiers.”

Also starting July 1, teachers’ evaluations will no longer be tied to students’ test performance. “More local control allows individual school districts the ability to determine how teachers should be evaluated,” Bartels said. “Hopefully this will reduce the pressure educators often feel to teach to the test and, as a result, make teaching more attractive as a career.”

Also, teachers will have more flexibility in what they take for professional development classes, Messmer said.

Other laws going into effect include:

• Moving the age to purchase tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21. This keeps the state in line with the federal law, which made the same change in 2019, and “provides a mechanism for enforcement through the [Alcohol and Tobacco Commission],” Messmer said.

• Limiting how much access a defendant’s attorney has to a victim in a child sex abuse case. “The new law allows other forms of discovery, such as a forensic interview, or interview by law enforcement, for the defendant to know what claims the victim is alleging,” Messmer said. “The defendant can petition the judge for the right to depose the victim in limited situations with several protections in place for the victim.” Prior to this law, Indiana was one of only five states that allowed unrestricted access to the victim by the defendants attorney prior to this change, he said.

• Allowing military families that are in the process of moving to Indiana to enroll their children in K-12 schools before the family gets to Indiana. “Many military families often find themselves moving frequently due to their jobs and sometimes this can interrupt a child’s education,” said Bartels, who co-authored the bill. Also, the two-year residency requirement to receive in-state college tuition rates is also waived for students and spouses of military personnel.

• Allowing the Indiana Farm Bureau to offer a health benefit plan to its members. Although the plan is not health insurance, it can provide similar benefits, Bartels said. “I looked at it as a free-market option here,” Lindauer said. “A lot of folks in our area are Farm Bureau members.”

• Guaranteeing that the money a high-school student makes as part of an internship doesn’t count against a family’s income limit for assistance programs like SNAP or Medicaid.

• Replacing the work permit process for minors with an online minor employee registry system at the Department of Labor.

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