MERRILLVILLE, Ind. - Progress has been made in the Legislature on important bills to crack down on human trafficking, improve public access to government records and meetings and provide immunity from prosecution for those who seek medical attention for an intoxicated person, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said today.
In past sessions the Indiana General Assembly passed nearly unanimously the consumer protection bills the Attorney General proposed. Zoeller said he is encouraged that legislators of both parties this session have expressed interest in passing the bills he has recommended.
"Protecting the rights of citizens and improving the workings of our criminal justice system are priorities legislators support. Although the legislative process can often appear divisive and frustrating, the reality is that lawmakers from both parties can reach accord on common-sense legislation that benefits Hoosier consumers," Zoeller said. The following are bills the Attorney General recommends in the Legislature's 2012 session:
Human Trafficking - Senate Bill 4
Bill Status: Assigned to Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters, passed 9-0 on January 5, moved to the full Indiana Senate, passed 48-0 on January 10. Assigned to the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code.
Human trafficking can include the recruiting, harboring or selling of a person, especially a child, for purposes of prostitution, commercial sex acts, forced labor or involuntary servitude. Large sporting events are associated with human trafficking; and law enforcement, victim-advocacy groups and the Attorney General have urged that the Legislature to tighten loopholes in current law prior to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on February 5.
Senate Bill 4 makes several updates to existing law prohibiting human trafficking. Since trafficking is often committed by criminals who are unrelated to their victims, the bill closes a loophole so that any non-relative who victimizes a child in this way can be prosecuted, rather than a parent or guardian only. Also, the bill would more effectively define the crime of "promotion of human trafficking of a minor" so that prosecutors could bring charges against traffickers even if no force was used, and for situations involving prostitution and involuntary servitude of minors.
Public Access Issues: Senate Bill 92 and House Bill 1093
Bill Status: Senate Bill 92 assigned to Senate Local Government Committee. House Bill 1093 assigned to the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee; passed 11-0 as amended January 17, now eligible for second reading in the Indiana House.
In 2011, Zoeller and the Hoosier State Press Association conducted a series of Public Access Seminars around the state for attorneys, government officials and the public. "The consensus of those training sessions was that Indiana's current public records and open meetings laws are difficult to enforce since there is no meaningful penalty for violating them," Zoeller said.
The recommended legislation would create penalties that courts could impose of $100 for the first violation of open meeting and public records laws, and $500 for additional violations, and specify the official in charge of the office or agency would be held responsible. Also, the proposal would require local governments to provide meeting notices online or by email on request.
Immunity for Certain Alcohol Offenses: Senate Bill 274 and House Bill 1245
Bill Status: Senate Bill assigned to Senate Judiciary Committee; approved 10-0 as amended on January 18, now eligible for second reading in the Indiana Senate. House Bill 1245 assigned to the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code.
Because of concerns that underage drinkers might not seek help for an intoxicated person in medical distress out of fear of being arrested themselves, college students from Purdue University and other campuses have proposed the "Indiana Lifeline Law." If the legislation is passed, a person would be immune from being arrested for underage consumption, public intoxication or other misdemeanor alcohol offenses, if he or she had requested emergency assistance for another person who needs medical attention due to alcohol intoxication. Intended to encourage prompt first response for medical emergencies and prevent alcohol-related deaths, the immunity would mean the prosecutor would not file criminal charges against the person who requests help for another.
"We congratulate the Purdue University students who developed this proposal to address these potentially dangerous situations not just in a law enforcement setting but in a medical setting. By bringing this information to the Statehouse, the students gained valuable experience in the legislative process," Zoeller said.
Protection Order Card Program: Senate Bill 242
Bill status: Assigned to Senate Judiciary Committee.
Domestic violence victims are encouraged to obtain protection orders against abusers. If police are called to a domestic violence incident at night or on a weekend when the courthouse is closed, then police officers might not be able to immediately ascertain whether a protection order is on file with the court that would require a defendant to stay away from a victim.
To better protect domestic violence victims, Senate Bill 242 authorizes the Attorney General's Office to establish a program to provide victims who have protection orders with wallet-sized cards with information about their orders. The cards can be shown to police called to such disputes so that they can more readily verify whether a court order has been violated and take appropriate legal action, such as arresting the defendant.
Lab Technician Testimony in Criminal Cases: Senate Bill 246
Bill Status: Assigned to Senate Judiciary Committee.
In October 2011, Attorney General Zoeller's annual Criminal Justice Summit focused on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that had a significant impact on the use of expert witness testimony when introducing crime lab evidence in criminal trials. The Supreme Court's 2011 decision requires that the actual laboratory analyst who performs forensic tests on blood or other evidence must personally testify in the defendant's trial -- rather than substitute testimony by a supervisor or expert witness who interpreted the lab results, which had been the common practice. Prosecutors and courts expressed concern that requiring live witness testimony will create significant backlogs and burdens on the testing system.
Senate Bill 246 would streamline the process to comply with the Supreme Court. It requires a prosecutor who intends to introduce a lab report into evidence to notify the court 20 days before the trial, and requires the defendant who plans to cross-examine the lab technician to file a demand within 10 days of getting notice. If the demand is properly filed, then the laboratory report would not be admissible in court unless the lab technician is personally made available to testify and be cross-examined by the defense. If the demand is not properly filed, then the defendant waives his opportunity for cross-examining the lab witness.
Most bills are currently in the committee hearing or amendment stage. Bills must be passed in identical versions by the Indiana House and Senate before they are sent to the Governor's desk.
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