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Lifeline law message slow to get out

A student actor portrays fatal victim drunk driving crash during an Every 15 Minutes program Hobart High School Hobart Ind.

A student actor portrays the fatal victim of a drunk driving crash during an Every 15 Minutes program at Hobart High School in Hobart, Ind. Monday April 29, 2013. The program involves students recreating a fatal car crash caused by either drunk driving, texting or other distracted driving. | Sun-Times Media, file ORG XMIT: CST1304301139587178

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Indiana lifeline

The law provides immunity for anyone under the age of 21 from prosecution of minor possession, minor consumption, minor transport and public intoxication if they call for medical help for someone else or to report a crime. To meet the criteria for the law, minors must:

Stay at the scene until help arrives.

Give their real names to law enforcement and other relevant information.

Cooperate with law enforcement at the scene.

Visit www.makegooddecisions.info to find out more about the Lifeline Law.

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Updated: August 29, 2014 6:02AM



When state legislators passed the Lifeline Law two years ago, the goal was to encourage minors to call for help by giving them immunity from being prosecuted for certain crimes, including underage drinking.

Getting the law passed was only half the battle, though. Making sure minors know about these protections is the other key piece, state officials and proponents say, but it’s unclear whether enough is being done in Northwest Indiana.

The original Lifeline Law, which the Indiana General Assembly approved in 2012, gave immunity to minors on certain charges -- public intoxication, minor possession, minor consumption and minor transport -- if they call for help for someone who has been drinking and needs medical attention.

State legislators then extended the bill this spring to also grant immunity for minors calling for anyone needing medical help or to report a crime.

David Rosenthal, a former Purdue University student who helped lead the effort to enact the law and who helped operate the website IndianaLifeline.org, said he doesn’t know of any data showing how much the law has been used since it was enacted but added that he has heard from some people who it did help.

“We do get some people that say, ‘I was in this situation, and I was able to use it, thank you,’”

Rosenthal said.

After the initial law was passed, Rosenthal said he and others went to universities across the state to help educate college students about the law.

“It’s tough because it’s one thing to make something a law, but then people have to know about it to take advantage of it,” he said.

However, it’s unclear what, if anything, the universities in Northwest Indiana have done to push that message.

Representatives with Indiana University Northwest and Purdue University Calumet did not respond to questions about whether they have any education efforts.

Chuck Garber, the assistant police chief with Valparaiso University, said he supports the law and the need to put safety first.

“I think it’s a good law, too, because it builds relationships between the law enforcement and the general public because folks aren’t afraid to call for help,” he said.

At the same time, he expressed concern for the university actively educating students about the law, noting that VU is a dry campus.

“We’re not going to put something out promoting drinking,” he said.

At least one Porter County group is planning an effort to help educate local residents about the Lifeline Law, though.

Heather Hitz, executive director of Empower Porter County, said the group is preparing to launch a program called Around the Table in September.

The purpose of the program is to encourage families to spend more time talking and listening to their children. During the program’s launch in September, Empower will hand out recipes and activity ideas to families along with conversation starters, one of which will include the Lifeline Law, Hitz said.

“(The law) is so needed because people are afraid that they’re going to get in trouble,” Hitz said. “It is so vital that they have a mechanism to call and get help.”

Empower is also reaching out to student groups at Ivy Tech Community College and Valparaiso University, Hitz said, to see about working with students at those campuses.

She noted that the law has received publicity but added that more involvement is needed to make sure more people know about it.

Amanda Morrison, coordinator for the Lake County Substance Abuse Council, said the group’s former federal grant coordinator had started making efforts at promoting the Lifeline Law in Lake County, including conducting a town hall meeting in Hammond.

However, that employee has since left the group, so any other Lifeline activities have been put on hold until she has been replaced, Morrison said.

“We will try to set something up to get more people educated on the law,” Morrison said.

State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, who sponsored the Lifeline bill, has toured the state to promote the law at college campuses and high schools, although it was unclear if he has been to Lake or Porter counties. His office said he is starting to plan a new round of tours for the fall semester and has already sent out a letter to Indiana universities to ask them to tell their students about the law and about the possibility of having him and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller speak about the law on campus.

Brian Corbin, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, encouraged schools to visit www.makegooddecisions.info, where they can submit a form to have Merritt, Zoeller or others come speak.

“The idea is it’s a continual process to educate young people about this,” Corbin said.

He added that officials can’t plan on visiting colleges once as each incoming class of freshmen will need to learn about the law for it to be most effective, which is why state officials created the website and have continued to reach out to colleges. It’s up to the institutions, though, to move forward.

“It’s really up to each campus how they schedule it,” Corbin said. “I know we’re happy to provide it.”



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