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general assembly

Midwifery legalization bill passes

– The Indiana House and Senate voted Friday to legalize midwifery after a decade-long battle.

It is currently a felony to practice midwifery without a license in Indiana. Generally midwifery entails helping a mother give birth at home.

Proponents have been pushing for years to lift the ban on the practice. More than 1,000 women a year in Indiana have planned home births and supporters contend legalizing the practice will make it safer.

“Hopefully this will allay the fears of many who have said a person needs to give birth in a hospital,” said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary. “Many people want to do this and we need to make sure it is done safely.”

House Bill 1135 creates direct entry midwives, and sets training and educational requirements for the new profession. The Medicaid Licensing Board will license and oversee the midwives.

The big sticking point in final negotiations on the legislation was how involved a doctor should be in supervising the midwife. The compromise requires a direct entry midwife to collaborate with an area physician. That informal agreement must be registered with the state.

The bill also contains provisions requiring at least two visits to a doctor for an expectant mom; emergency plans and protocols for administering a limited amount of prescription drugs, and the midwife must have liability insurance.

Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville – a doctor – told his colleagues that the infant mortality rate improved greatly in the 1930s and 1940s when births were moved to a hospital setting with doctors on hand.

“I don’t think this will change infant mortality within the state of Indiana one iota, and I wanted you to be aware,” he said.

The House passed the bill 69-26 and the Senate voted 38-12. Gov. Mike Pence now gets to weigh in.

Drug testing

A move to drug-test Hoosiers who receive cash welfare benefits died.

The House and Senate appeared to have an agreement on the bill but Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, decided the bill would not move forward.He said there were mixed feelings in his caucus about the bill, which initially failed a procedural committee vote about 11 p.m. before he called for a second vote. “It’s just not the right time,” he said.

Under House Bill 1483, all those applying for cash welfare benefits would take a written test that screens for propensity for substance abuse. Those singled out would be put into a pool for random drug tests. Those who fail a drug test would keep their benefits if they enter a drug treatment program. If they test clean for drug use in two consecutive months in a four-month period they would continue to receive benefits.

Those who fail could lose their benefits.

But the House and Senate differed on allowing a third party to accept the cash on behalf of children in a household. The final version removed the third-party language.

Justice changes

A massive overhaul of Indiana’s criminal justice system cleared its final legislative hurdle Friday, and now moved to Gov. Mike Pence for consideration.

House Bill 1006 passed the Senate 34-15 after the House passed it Thursday.

The measure would not be effective until July 2014, and lawmakers still have to add a local funding component to the bill next year.

The effort touches virtually every aspect of the criminal justice system – including drug sentences, prison credit time and local community corrections programs – and has taken several years to craft.

The goals are to make punishment more proportional to the crime, force the most serious offenders to serve longer sentences and divert drug addicts and low-level offenders from state prisons to local treatment and supervision programs to reduce recidivism.

The bill increases the number of felony levels from the current four to six and spells out new credit-time rules for early release.

All felons would have to serve 75 percent of their sentences, as opposed to the current 50 percent. A few severe crimes would require 85 percent.

At the same time, the bill is designed to give local judges more discretion over when to suspend prison sentences for some crimes, which means some offenders would skip prison and stay in local community corrections programs.