Messmer bills to tackle immunity, death investigations


JASPER — State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, will propose legislation involving immunity, death investigations, depositions and physical therapy licensing.

He has not yet filed his bills. But he shared some of the main ones he plans to submit.

Messmer will propose legislation that will give leaders, businesses and organizations immunity from civil lawsuits pertaining to COVID-19, so long as they have nor willfully committed misconduct or gross negligence. This does not include health and medical facilities or healthcare workers, because there is a state code that covers those fields since they deal with infectious diseases.

“It will cover civil immunity, as long as you’re trying to do your best to provide proper safety protocols to your employers, to your employees, to your customers,” Messmer said. “If you are a superintendent, if you’re a church leader, the mayor, if you’re someone who is in charge of employees or customers at any level, that person would be would be would be covered. It covers everybody but the health care worker space.”

The need for this was shown in the early days of the outbreak.

“Back in April and May when we were meeting with the Governor during the beginning of the COVID outbreak, we had asked him to put some temporary civil immunities in place as part of his executive order,” Messmer explained. “Their legal team went you know went through the emergency order statutes and civil liability statutes, and they didn’t think he had the statutory authority to do it.”

Messmer got a call from one of the attorneys who said that would have to be fixed through legislation. So he decided to submit this bill for that.

The bill effective date will date back prior to the initial emergency order that the governor filed, to make it retroactive.

Although he has not yet filed the bill — he hasn’t filed any yet — Messmer expects it to be one of the early bills filed and considered.

“It’s a high priority bill,” he said. “Both the House and the Senate are both giving it high priority.”

Another bill Messmer plans to file stems from concerns a family in his district expressed to him. The family told Messmer about a 2014 accident, in which their child died.

“While she was listed as a missing person, the local law enforcement agency tried to investigate her as a missing person. But once her body was found — her vehicle was found in a lake and she had drowned — they would not do a death investigation,” Messmer said. “They just immediately listed her as an accidental death with no investigation.”

Messmer’s proposal would allow an immediate family member of the deceased person to go to the Indiana State Police and request a separate investigation if the local law enforcement agency does not conduct a death investigation, or if the family disagrees with the outcome of the investigation. There is also criterial listed on who would qualify as an immediate family member.

“The state police would have statutory authority to do that,” Messmer said. “But usually don’t, unless they’re asked by a local agency.”

Messmer will submit a bill that would, if passed, give adults with mental disabilities who have been abused similar deposition protections that were approved last year for child abuse victims.

“If their mental capability is not beyond that of a child,” he said, “then the deposition rules would be the same as those for a child.”

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, of which Dubois County Prosecutor Anthony Quinn is board chairman, proposed this change to Messmer.

Legislation allowing for quick licensure of physical therapists from a qualifying state is also among the Messmer’s proposals.

“It would apply for therapists coming from a state that has the national guidelines together, adopts the compact and has state laws that comply,” Messmer said. “It allows (physical therapists) that are licensed in the state to move here and get immediate licensure.”

A few years ago, Messmer authored a bill that made a similar compact for nurses. He also got legislation passed that updated physical therapist licensure laws and rules.

With the compact, “this definitely streamlines the ability to get people that move here licensed and able to practice quicker,” Messmer said.

Messmer represents District 48, which includes Bainbridge, Boone, Cass, Madison and Patoka townships in Dubois County, all of Spencer and Pike counties and portions of Warrick, Gibson and Knox counties.

The Indiana General Assembly will reconvene Monday. The overall top priorities will be redistricting, which is always done after the Census is completed and calculated, and the state’s budget for the next two fiscal years.

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