New laws take effect today

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By Taylor Wooten | [email protected]

During an unconventional legislative session, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed more than 200 bills into law, most of which take effect today.

Due to the unexpected nature of the coronavirus pandemic, some “emergency” laws took effect immediately, including a law which limited the liability of businesses from most claims relating to COVID-19, and another that allowed lawmakers to call themselves into session during an emergency .

Here is a look at some of the most notable new laws to take effect today.

Religious services

Religious services will now be defined as essential services, following much debate over their restrictions throughout the pandemic.

State and political organizations will be prohibited from imposing strict restrictions on religious organizations than imposed upon other businesses and organizations that provide essential services to the public.

The right to worship or to worship in person cannot be restricted during an emergency, the law says.

Health facility visitation

With many hospitals and nursing homes restricting visitation for safety reasons during the public health emergency, lawmakers decided to allow designation for certain visitors in similar situations.

Health facilities and residential care facilities, such as nursing homes, will be required to allow visitation of a resident as long as the visitor complies with standards and guidelines set forth for visitors by the Indiana Department of Health during a declared emergency.

Local health departments

In a declared emergency, a local order may be less stringent than an executive order.

Local orders, such as those from county or city health departments, that are more stringent or address something missing from the executive order must be approved by the county legislative body or city legislative body and the mayor.

The appointment of a county health officer must be approved by the county legislative body. An appeals process will take place prior to enforcement actions by local boards of health and local health officers in response to declared state and local public health emergencies.

Telehealth

With increased usage during the pandemic, the General Assembly established more regulations on the use of telehealth services.

The application to become a telehealth provider will be expanded to include licensed practitioners instead of just prescribers.

Telehealth providers will be held to the same standards as in-person health care providers, with the ability of the practitioner or the overarching organization to deny telehealth services to a patient if they would be of lesser quality than an in-person visit.

Electronic meetings

This allows political subdivision employees to meet virtually as long as a written policy is established, the communication is simultaneous, the public is allowed to attend and observe, and at least half of the members are physically present.

Broadband development

The state established the Indiana broadband connectivity program to expand the availability of internet throughout the state.

A public portal will be established where individuals can report low broadband speeds at their residences or businesses. In response, providers will be able to access the information and bid for a grant award to establish internet connectivity at the low-speed sites.

The program may also establish an internet connectivity map, which will track broadband access across the state.

Law enforcement

Following a summer of discussion about police treatment of Black men and women, the Indiana legislature passed a multifaceted law regarding law enforcement.

The law requires mandatory de-escalation training for officers, and makes turning off a body worn camera a Class A misdemeanor. Chokeholds are prohibited in certain circumstances.

To prevent repeated police misconduct, the Indiana law enforcement training board will establish a procedure to decertify officers who have committed misconduct. In hiring new officers, law enforcement agencies will be required to request employment records and information from previous employers, who will be required to provide them.

School internet usage

Indiana schools will be required by January to adopt and implement a policy for internet use and begin using programs that filter or block internet access to materials that are harmful to minors.

Civics education requirement

This law requires the Indiana State Board of Education and the Indiana Department of Education to establish standards for a civic education course.

The course must be at least a semester, offered in sixth, seventh or eighth grade. The standards should be established and in effect by July 2022.

Teacher unions

This law says teacher unions will be required to have participants opt-in and pay due yearly, while school employers must provide annually written or electronic notice to its employees of their right to cease payment to their union and withdraw membership.

Voting

The county will be required to compare signatures on absentee ballots.

Also, the deadline for absentee ballots is extended to 6 pm from noon on Election Day.

And it is now a Level 6 felony to make promises of money or property to get another person to vote for a candidate.

Abortion

This law adds many changes to Indiana’s abortion legislation, including allowing mental health providers to exempt themselves from abortion-related services based on ethical, moral or religious beliefs.

Women will be required to receive an ultrasound prior to an abortion. Providers will be required to submit ultrasound photos to the state as proof they are following protocol.

Also in the law, abortion reversal information must be included with some abortion-inducing drugs. However, federal judge James Patrick Hanlon issued a preliminary injunction to prevent this provision of the law from taking effect.

Abortion providers have shown a “reasonable likelihood” that the abortion reversal language is not truthful, Hanlon said.

Instruction sheets and patient agreement forms will no longer need to include FDA guidelines for abortion-inducing drugs.

Telemedicine is prohibited to be used to provide any abortion, including the writing and filling of abortion-inducing drugs.

Safe Haven 911

In a new addition to the state’s Safe Haven Law, people with extenuating circumstances rendering them unable to travel to give up custody of a child are able to have an emergency services provider take custody of the child by dialing 911.

The adult must stay with the child until a provider arrives, but will be allowed to remain anonymous. This is an addition to the state’s newborn safety devices, also known as “baby boxes,” which can be placed at any facility staffed by an emergency medical services provider 24/7.

The boxes must be located in an area visible to staff and include an alarm system. The devices legally allow mothers in crisis to safely, securely and anonymously surrender a child less than 30 days old.

Wetlands

In a controversial environment bill, private property owners can now drain or fill nearly all isolated wetlands without obtaining a state permit or replacing the wetlands elsewhere.

Wetlands connected to a waterway are still subject to federal regulations.

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