Messmer emphasizes new laws on health, accountability

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, noted that several new laws that went into effect this month give people more recourse from possible overreaching local rules and decisions.

One new law requires local health departments to get approval by the legislative body before they adopt local health restrictions that are more stringent than what has been declared by the governor’s emergency order. In this county, that legislative body would be the county commissioners.

“Our local health department did not make any local health orders that were stricter than the state. So I didn’t get any real complaints locally,” Messmer said. “But from across the state and from other counties I have [seen] where health officers or health departments were were a little more aggressive, there were some scenarios.”

This law also gives people and businesses a method to appeal a local health department’s enforcement action, such as enacting a fine for violating an order during a declared emergency, to the same legislative body.

“The problem is that a local appointed health board and a local appointed health officer, prior to this law, didn’t answer to anybody,” Messmer said. “We live in a representative republic. And people who are elected to lead ultimately need to have some degree of oversight over an appointed official.”

Health facilities must allow people the ability to visit their loved ones during an emergency. “So whether it’s a hospital or a nursing home or an outpatient center,” Messmer said, “they have to establish visitation rules that allow for visitation of a loved one by a direct family member. We classify them as an essential family caregiver.”

When the pandemic happened a lot of facilities denied all visitation, he said. “Multiple people in every district, in every community had loved ones die, and were not allowed visitation with them in their final days,” Messmer said.

Another law helps suspended drivers get their license back without paying a reinstatement fee if they can prove that they have at least six months of insurance.

“This allows people to get out of the cycle of losing their license because of lack of insurance,” Messmer said. “(At this time) 850,000 of the 1.2 million people with suspended licenses are only due to what is called the lack of financial responsibility, or lack of insurance.”

He noted that the insurance obtained tends to be high-risk insurance. He also said this does not remove other judgements that have been filed against the person.

“If you have past judgments, they’re still owed,” Messmer said. “If you’ve had failure to show up in court or failure to have insurance, if you had racked up any penalties in years past, you’re still liable for those. But it doesn’t require you to pay an additional reinstatement fee to get your license suspension taken off.” Also, if a person misses a monthly payment and loses that insurance, the suspension becomes active again.

Another law gives a family the ability to send to the Indiana State Police superintendent a request that an investigation be conducted if a family member has died in an incident but no investigation is done by the local police department.

“Those cases are going to be pretty rare. But when they happen, we want to make sure that the family of that victim has some recourse,” Messmer said. “This gives them an opportunity to have an appeal, to the state police. The request goes in writing to the state superintendent, not by the local police post.”

This law is retroactive, meaning that it can apply to past situations as well as future ones.

Telehealth services were permanently expanded in another law. Now all licensed medical professionals can use this method to consult with and help their patients. This was something that Gov. Eric Holcomb expanded in one of his emergency orders, and the Indiana General Assembly agreed that it should be in place as law.

“Expanding telehealth services will greatly enhance the ability for folks in rural communities to have better access to health care,” Messmer said. “The doctors still have the liability to determine when an in-person visit or a telehealth visit is appropriate.”

Messmer also agreed that the public should be aware of the new laws State Reps. Stephen Bartels, R-Eckerty, and Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper cited last week. Those include laws that stipulate religious gatherings as essential, thus ensuring that the government cannot restrict the right to worship in person during public emergencies; extend civil liability protections related to COVID-19 to employers, schools and health care entities; provide Small Business Restart grants that help employers impacted by the pandemic to pay for a portion of business and payroll-related expenses; earmark $70 million for law enforcement training facilities and programs; and put into action the state’s new two-year budget that totals $37 billion.

To see all new laws that went into effect this month, visit the Indiana General Assembly’s webpage at iga.in.gov.




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