The Journal Gazette
Thursday, October 31, 2019 1:00 am

General Assembly

Panel urges cigarette age to 21, adoption help

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – A legislative study committee Wednesday recommended that lawmakers raise the age to buy cigarettes – traditional and electronic – to 21.

“What does the state want? Does it want healthier people or is it worried about losing money?” Heidi Beidinger-Burnett asked. “This committee needs to make a statement. We have to be bolder than baby steps.”

She is a member of the Interim Study Committee on Public Health, Behavioral Health, and Human Services, which heard testimony this summer on the topic but approved its final report with recommendations Wednesday.

Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, brought up several times that nothing could happen until the next budget cycle in 2021 because Indiana cigarette taxes would decline if fewer people can buy the product. The legal age now is 18.

But others on the committee pushed back.

Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, said the state may see a loss in tax revenue initially but will save on long-term health expenses.

“We think. We assume,” Charbonneau said in response.

“We know,” Becker retorted.

Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, asked why the committee also isn't recommending an increase in taxes on cigarettes, which could offset the loss of revenue.

But Charbonneau said he wanted a clean bill with only the age change. Attempts in the past have linked the two proposals and died.

The committee also voted to recommend streamlining the adoption process and addressing the disparity in adoption assistance.

Several adoptive parents testified Indiana isn't stepping up to provide adoption subsidies like other states. Instead, the Department of Child Services does an individual negotiation with new adoption parents and considers the family's income and child's needs before offering.

Hundreds of parents receive between $1 and $5 a day, but most receive between $10 and $20 a day.

“A lot of special needs kids are not getting adopted because parents are afraid of covering all the costs,” said Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute.

He told a story of a family caring for a child born addicted to drugs, with anxiety, learning disabilities and only one working kidney.

As foster parents they received $42 a day. After adopting, they received $1 a day in assistance.

Lawmakers last year put language in the state budget that would have required an adoption subsidy payment of at least half the foster care per diem. But Republican legislators removed it at the last minute.

Becker noted that many say it will cost millions but said that doesn't make sense. If the children aren't adopted then the state pays the full foster care amount. If they are adopted then the state pays something less than that – so, a savings no matter what, she argued.

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