Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

August 29, 2013

BOB ZALTSBERG: Lifeline Law makes room for discretion, lawmakers say

Legislation offers immunity when help sought due to alcohol consumption.

(Continued)

“A lot of times we need to put a little more confidence in law enforcement,” he said. “A lot of times, all they really want to do is help. They have that culture of care going on. They just want to make sure everybody’s OK. I think you have to put a little faith in the police.” Thus if somebody falls or is hurt, law enforcement, he believes, will be more focused on getting care for the injured than arresting people.

He said as with all laws, if someone has a suggestion to make it better, he’ll work with that. He’s committed to safety, but that includes safety from drinking to illness or death.

“I do not want to give incentives to binge drinking,” he said. “We need to give incentive to calling 911.”

State Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, agreed that police and prosecutors have plenty of discretion to interpret the law.

“I suspect this is the kind of thing when somebody is close but not specifically within the law, the prosecutor would have full discretion whether to charge or not,” he said. He’s said there’s more “wiggle room” in the law than might appear because both the police and prosecutor can focus on safety rather than the specific language of the law.

“We needed to kind of break this cycle where people could be saved if they just called the police” rather than worried they might get in trouble, he said. “There was some concern that if you made the law very broad, you might be sending a signal that anything goes.”

While he strongly supports the Lifeline Law, Pierce thinks education and awareness will be more important than legal actions in dealing with cultural issues such as underage drinking.

“The criminal code is terrible at dealing with these social issues,” he said, noting laws can be written too strictly. “Ultimately the way to solve this will not be through the criminal code, it will be the grinding education process and changing the culture.”

Bob Zaltsberg is editor of The Herald-Times of Bloomington. Contact him at rzaltsberg@heraldt.com.

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