Mental health help clears House; throwing stars legalized for recreation in Senate

By: - February 1, 2023 6:00 am

The Indiana Senate on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

The Indiana House on Tuesday unanimously approved a major mental health proposal to ensure people experiencing mental health crises get treatment in local hospitals, not prisons or jails.

Several other key bills also passed, clearing a major hurdle, and now move to the opposite chamber.

Jails and correctional facilities have long been the state’s largest mental health providers, much to the chagrin of state leaders, due to facility and provider shortages throughout the state. Without other avenues for treatment, Hoosiers in dire straits often have no other options.

Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, spearheaded the effort to divert those people to treatment, with a focus on keeping mentally ill people out of jails in the first place.

“Jails are not the place for the mentally ill and they’re not able to be treated as they properly should,” Steuerwald said on the floor Tuesday.

Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon. (Photo from Indiana Senate Republicans)

Before House Bill 1006, family members, friends and law enforcement officers could take people to mental health facilities if they displayed symptoms of mental distress, but hospitals said they didn’t get paid for the care administered and were forced to assume liability. New language clarifies payment, liability and establishes a maximum time limit of three days in a facility without court intervention.

Steuerwald emphasized that the bill wouldn’t lock officers or judges into its processes, adding, “We’ve given discretion everywhere.” 

Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, called it one of the best bills he’d seen in his long career.

“This is going to be an important tool for your county sheriff’s department and your county corrections officer to be able to reach [mentally ill Hoosiers] before it’s too late,” Moseley said of the bill’s crisis intervention team provisions.

But Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, cautioned, though, that communities need to have the resources to follow through on the proposal.

“This bill is great but in order for it to succeed, we must ensure that there are facilities available through the state and in every county,” Pierce said. “We need to have this stuff funded … otherwise, people are not going to be able to act on 1006.”

Get your throwing stars now

Indiana has banned throwing stars since 1985, but they could be coming to businesses near you — ax-throwing-style. 

The Senate approved a bill carried by Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, that would legalize recreational use of throwing stars at certain businesses, as long as there are safety precautions for throwing lanes and spectators. 

“You can shoot for the stars and ask for the moon; if you vote for this bill, you can throw stars soon,” Brown said on the floor Tuesday. Her rhyming poem earned laughter from other senators on the floor.

The bill would let minors as young as 12 participate, but now only with written consent from a parent or guardian – a change Brown added Monday in response to critiques from Democrats.

Senators approved the bill 48-1, with only Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, voting against.

Controversial right-to-military-trial bill moves

The Senate also advanced a contentious proposal stripping Indiana National Guard members of the right to demand a trial by court-martial.

The furor over the Senate Bill 279 – and sister legislation in the House – has split a once-tight coalition of Hoosier veterans service organizations. Opponents say the bills would deny service members a legal right they’ve had for centuries, but guard leaders and proponents say it would promote swift non-judicial punishments.

Bill author Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, forcefully refuted arguments that Senate Bill 279 would affect sexual assault-related proceedings.

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis. (Courtesy Indiana Senate Republicans)

“This conversation about not protecting ladies needs to end, and end quickly, because every one of us wants to protect those that would serve us,” Freeman said.

He said the bill would remove incarceration from a list of possible low-level non-judicial punishments that commanders can impose upon their soldiers — in exchange for erasing the right to demand a military trial.

But Indiana National Guard leaders said in testimony this month that the incarceration change was in response to upcoming edits from the U.S. Department of Defense, which plans to lower the standard of proof commanders use in deciding non-judicial cases.

The measure passed 40-9, along party lines.

Easing HIV discrimination, mandating smart money classes

House lawmakers also approved a bill that would remove stigmatizing HIV-related language and repercussions from Indiana Code and ease blood donation rules.

Doctors previously testified in committee that HIV, if managed properly, can be nearly undetectable and transmissible but that “outdated laws” interfere and perpetuate stigmas.

The bill passed 78-19 with bipartisan support, but leached several conservative votes.

Meanwhile, the Senate easily moved a bill mandating that students successfully take a financial literacy class to graduate. It would go into effect with the class of 2028.

It passed 47-2, with Sens. Eric Bassler, R-Washington, and Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceburg, voting against.

“This is so unbelievably obvious that this is something we need in our schools right now, yet they are unable to come to that conclusion themselves,” Perfect said on the floor. “… This bill is a good bill – we need to do this – but in my opinion, it represents a failing on all of our parts, that it comes to this.”

Capital Chronicle reporter Whitney Downard contributed to this report.


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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie joins the Indiana Capital Chronicle after covering city government and urban affairs for the Indianapolis Business Journal for more than a year. She graduated from Northwestern University in March 2021, and has reported for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and student publications in Evanston, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and Doha, Qatar.