Bills sparked by I-Team 8 investigations signed into law

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Governor Mike Pence signed more than 200 new bills into law this week, including several fixes to issues uncovered by I-Team 8 investigations last year.

RISKY RETIREMENT

It was a Statehouse math problem.

In late 2013, Indiana’s Public Retirement System (INPRS) announced plans to privatize its annuity system, after studies showed some public employees who elected to annuitize their Annuity Savings Accounts getting retirement benefits at nearly double private market rates. An I-Team 8 investigation exposed the risks behind a planned legislative fix that would have cut Indiana’s guaranteed annuity rate payouts to public employees by nearly half.

Following those reports, lawmakers negotiated a series of changes. House Enrolled Act 1075 was reworked to cut rates gradually instead. It also blocks INPRS from privatizing annuities until at least 2017.

Both public employees and taxpayer advocates declared the compromise a victory.

It was signed into law by Governor Pence late Wednesday and takes effect on July 1.

TRICKY TAXES

Late last year, I-Team 8 found Indiana’s Department of Revenue collecting millions in sales taxes the state isn’t entitled to. The money was collected in error by retailers. The investigation found that extra revenue was sometimes kept by retailers, and sometimes turned over to the state.

Retailers told I-Team 8 that Indiana’s confusing policy on which products are taxable and which are tax-free was to blame, particularly on items like candy and other grocery items.

Much of that confusion still exists. But, lawmakers did give retailers new direction on sales tax calculation during the 2014 legislative session, allowing, among other things, for sellers to round sales taxes on either an item-by-item or invoice basis. Additional products were also removed from tax-exempt status in order to comply with Indiana’s agreement with the multi-state Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board.

Governor Pence signed Senate Enrolled Act 161 into law on Tuesday. It’s author, Senator Luke Kenley, told I-Team 8 he also hoped the Department of Revenue would be able to implement new computer software in 2015 that would help it better identify mistakes in retail sales tax collection and remittance.

BMV OVERCHARGING

A lawsuit filed in March 2013 in Indianapolis alleged more than four million Hoosier drivers had been overcharged since 2007 when they obtained or renewed their driver’s licenses. That lawsuit was eventually settled, and drivers were issued refunds or credits of around $3 to $7 each.

I-Team 8’s reporting on the lawsuit also raised questions about dozens of other fees charged by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

House Enrolled Act 1237, signed by Governor Pence on Thursday, amends many of those fees.

A separate lawsuit over allegations that other additional fees were overcharged is still making its way through the courts after a judge ruled in February against the state’s request to have it thrown out.

PRIVATELY OWNED BUS INSPECTIONS

Senate Enrolled Act 238, signed by Governor Pence Wednesday, closes a loophole exposed by I-Team 8 last summer following a church bus crash on Keystone Parkway near I-465 that killed three people.

I-Team 8 found buses owned and operated by churches are required by federal to conduct annual inspections. But, both federal and state law allowed a church to choose its own inspector. The Indiana State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, which is required to inspect most other types of buses, was not required to be involved in church bus inspections. Laws also did not require records of inspections to be kept by the church.

SEA 238 closes some of those loopholes by requiring ISP to establish a program to inspect privately owned and operated buses. However, the law does not require those inspections to be conducted by ISP’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, as long as the inspection complies with U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. But, private bus owners must now provide proof of those annual inspections to State Police in order to receive an annual registration.

METH HOUSE PROPERTY SALES DISCLOSURES

An I-Team 8 investigation in July found hundreds of dismantled former methamphetamine labs in homes across Indiana weren’t accurately listed or, in some cases, listed at all in the Drug Enforcement Agency methamphetamine lab database. The investigation also found state records of former meth homes were often incomplete. I-Team 8 found some of those homes were sold to owners who were unaware of the property’s past.

I-Team 8 tested a Marion County home that was decontaminated and declared “clean” in 2006, and found elevated levels of dangerous chemicals leftover from the meth cooking process. Experts called the findings alarming, particularly because there is no requirement that county health departments sign off on a decontaminated home, as long as a state certified “meth decontamination expert” signs off on a mitigation plan.

House Enrolled Act 1141, signed by Governor Pence on Wednesday, removes management of the state’s meth lab database and website from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute and places oversight of it with the Indiana State Police. It also allows the addresses of former meth houses to be removed from the website if they are decontaminated by a state certified expert.

LIFELINE LAW EXPANSION

Governor Pence also signed an expansion to a measure first prompted by an I-Team 8 investigation two years ago. Indiana’s Lifeline Law was passed in 2012 to give immunity to underage drinkers who call police to help a friend in an alcohol-related emergency.

I-Team 8 reported on the new law after Carmel teen Brett Finbloom died from drinking too much last year. At the time, his friends were too scared to call 911 when he passed out. He never woke up.

New changes to the law, included in Senate Enrolled Act 227, make the measure more of a “Good Samaritan” law. Under it, a teen reporting any kind of medical emergency, a victim of a sexual assault, or reporting any type of crime, is immune from prosecution on underage alcohol consumption charges even if they’ve been drinking.

It was signed by Governor Pence on Wednesday, and takes effect on July 1.

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