INDIANAPOLIS – Put your phone down and pony up more cash for gas taxes as a host of new laws go into effect Wednesday.
Some health care-related items are also new, including coverage for breast prostheses pushed by a local couple and a new insurance option for Hoosiers.
Here is a look at five key new laws:
You can't touch that!
Indiana joins 21 other states in prohibiting drivers holding mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, in their hands while driving to reduce distracted driving and improve safety on Hoosier roadways.
During the legislative session, stakeholders agreed that a marketing and awareness campaign would kick off the new law. But with state revenues down more than $1 billion those plans had to be scaled back.
The Indiana Department of Transportation is heading the effort that involves several other agencies as well as private organizations. The department has established a website at handsfreeindiana.com that provides answers to frequently asked questions, statistics and more.
Q. How else can I use my phone if it's not in my hand?
A. You can use your Bluetooth, headset or any other hands-free technology.
Q. Can I still use my phone maps while driving?
A. Yes, as long as you are still using your device hands-free.
Scott Manning, spokesman for INDOT, said public service announcements are also being provided to radio stations around the state and interstate highway dynamic messaging signs will remind drivers of the new law. There will also be traditional signs for those entering the state.
If motorists break the law, police can ticket and fine them up to $500 – but the Bureau of Motor Vehicles won't add points to a person's license until July 2021.
Breast prosthesis coverage enhanced
When Mitch Harper saw wife Dawn go through breast cancer – twice – there wasn't a lot he could do other than be supportive. Until he learned about limitations on breast prostheses for women after a mastectomy.
While expensive reconstructive surgeries were covered by insurance, sometimes women who chose the alternative of a prosthesis were forced to pick one off the shelf – with limited size and skin tone options.
So Mitch Harper – an attorney and former state representative – drafted a bill and headed to the legislature.
What resulted was Senate Bill 239 – carried by Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne. It requires insurance companies to cover a custom breast prosthetic.
Harper said a custom prosthetic fits a woman's specific contours and scars so that it doesn't rub or hurt. It is natural and comfortable for women who have gone through a dark time.
And he salutes those insurance companies that were already covering the item but said “now it's the law.” Next up he wants to work to require Medicare to cover it.
Gas tax going up
Back in 2017, Indiana lawmakers increased the state gasoline tax from 18 cents per gallon to 28 cents to help fund road repairs.
But it hasn't stopped there. A smaller section of the bill created an annual inflationary adjustment.
That index factor is capped at one penny a year, and runs through July 1, 2024.
So, starting Wednesday that price will rise again – now to 31 cents per gallon.
The increase in the past has generated an estimated $31 million per year, some of which is sent to local governments. But with lower gas prices and limited travel during the pandemic it is unclear how much money will be raised.
Indiana's gas tax rate is higher than those for all of its surrounding states, except for Illinois.
The Indiana Department of Revenue said the special fuel license tax rate will also rise to 51 cents.
Indiana lawmakers increased the age to buy tobacco and vaping products to 21 – following suit of a federal move in January.
But legislators also did more in Senate Bill 1.
It doubles fines on retailers and makes it easier to take the business license of a retailer that repeatedly sells to minors.
Sen. John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, said the most important part of the bill was to align vaping with traditional tobacco smoking. He noted Indiana is a leader in smoking and vaping and the state is trying to curb that.
He said retailers now need to card anyone who looks 30 or younger, and he noted that fines can reach up to $1,400 now after multiple offenses.
“The whole COVID pandemic has really exposed the underlying health conditions that Hoosiers have to put them in a more vulnerable position,” Ruckelshaus said. “This is a great tee-up for future legislative sessions. We need to be healthier and this is one way.”
New coverage option
An innovative new program by Indiana Farm Bureau can officially get underway with the new law going into effect.
The health benefit sharing plan – don't call it insurance because it doesn't carry the same rules and requirements – could be available to buy starting in October.
The nonprofit agricultural organization coverage bill passed easily in House Bill 184. It is akin to pooling along the lines of a health care sharing ministry exempted from the requirements of insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
The product will look and feel a lot like insurance, including monthly premiums and a menu of coverage items. But because state law specifically carves it out of being insurance, the coverage doesn't have to cover a wide variety of illnesses or services.
Randy Kron, president of the Indiana Farm Bureau, said anyone seeking coverage will undergo a health assessment and the plan can reject anyone.
Indiana Farm Bureau hopes to have plan parameters and costs in the next month and people can start buying later in the fall to become effective Jan. 1. Anyone buying the coverage must be a member of the Indiana Farm Bureau for at least 30 days.
Kron said the Farm Bureau is working with Tennessee, which has had the program for years, but acknowledged Indiana's hospital costs are higher and establishing a rate structure has been a challenge.
“I still feel we can have substantial savings for Hoosiers,” he said.
Hundreds of people have inquired already and more information can be found at www.infarmbureau.org/membership/INFBHealthPlans.