Bills on ambulance insurance, alcohol and bobcat hunting pass Senate, House

Sen. Tyler Johnson, R-Leo, introduces a bill to limit prior authorizations on Jan. 11, 2024. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
By: and

Indiana Capital Chronicle

For The Republic

INDIANAPOLIS — Sen. Tyler Johnson, R-Leo, still remembers the phone call from his sister: there was no ambulance available for her father-in-law, who’d taken a fall on the kitchen floor.

He called that “one of the worst tragedies in my life” on the Senate floor Tuesday, while defending legislation he hoped would “sav(e) ambulances.”

His chamber also approved a pair of alcohol bills while the House OK’d bobcat hunting and school cell phone policy proposals.

Johnson’s Senate Bill 1385 would require health plans to pay out-of-network ambulance providers for transports at rates set by local units. In the absence of a local rate, insurers would pay either the provider’s billed charges or at 400% of the Medicare base rate — whichever is less.

Providers maintain that insurers offer payments below the cost of providing the service, forcing them to bill surprised Hoosiers and threatening their financial stability. Employers, meanwhile, say the change could raise their insurance premiums and lead to more costs for employees and customers.

The legislation doesn’t apply to state health plans; Johnson said he aimed to avoid a fiscal impact in a non-budget year. But he told the Capital Chronicle that he planned to pursue that avenue in the next legislative session.

The bill also leaves out a large slice of insurance plans that, under federal law, the state cannot regulate.

Sen. Mike Gaskill, R-Pendleton, argued Tuesday that it would overwhelmingly impact plans held by small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as people who purchase insurance on the marketplace.

“I don’t think it’s a fair way to operate. I don’t think that it’s going to make much of a dent in this problem,” Gaskill said. He asserted that the legislation wouldn’t “fix the problem” and instead would “affect those who are least able to afford the increase in their insurance premiums.”

Johnson, meanwhile, assured fellow lawmakers that the effort was “not going to hurt small business,” noting that he is also a small business owner with private insurance.

“It’s time that we do something in this area,” he concluded.

The bill, which passed on a 44-5 vote, was amended in the Senate; the House still has to approve the final form. All “no” votes came from Republicans.

House wraps up bobcat hunting, cell phone policy bills

Across the hall, House lawmakers split on a measure that would require the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish and implement a bobcat hunting season by July 1, 2025.

Senate Bill 241 cleared the House on Tuesday in a 65-26 vote. Twenty-two Democrats and four Republican legislators voted against the bill, which now heads to the governor’s desk.

Bobcats – Indiana’s only native wild cat – were considered endangered for more than 50 years, beginning in 1969. But they were taken off the state’s endangered species list in 2005, and their population has grown.

The state agency contemplated a hunting and trapping season for bobcats in 2018 but withdrew the proposed rule after it drew widespread public opposition.

Supporters said the bill will help manage Indiana’s growing population of bobcats. But opponents said they would rather see more comprehensive data about the animal’s population before allowing a hunting season.

“I don’t really like the idea of hunting bobcats … but they have no natural predators here,” said. Rep. Pat Boy, D-Michigan City. “We need to do something so that DNR has some kind of control over this.”

Legislators in the House also advanced a bill that Rep. Julie McGuire, R-Indianapolis, said would “take smartphones out of classrooms” and put a stop to “the endless barrage of notifications” disrupting student learning.

It earned more consensus, with a 83-8 vote.

Senate Bill 185 requires that all public and charter schools create a policy for phones and other wireless devices. Hoosier students could still use their phones or tablets for educational purposes, if teachers deem it necessary. They can also use the devices if there is an emergency or for health reasons.

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville — a former teacher and school principal — emphasized that cell phones are the “number one detriment” to student performance. She said the bill ensures consistency by requiring students to adhere to the same cell phone policy in all classes.

“The overall issue is, what do we do about this thing in their hand that they are addicted to?” McNamara asked. “This is a framework to work under, but gives schools flexibility.”

The bill heads to the governor.

Senate also pushes happy hour, mixed drinks bills through finish line

Indiana bars and restaurants could soon hold time-limited happy hours under a proposal that won final legislative approval from the Senate. Current law requires alcohol discounts to be live the whole day.

House Bill 1086 also requires those retailers to get liquor liability insurance with coverage of at least $500,000. But it won’t legalize carry-out cocktails after the language was removed.

It got little discussion on the floor Tuesday, passing unceremoniously on a 38-10 vote. Lawmakers of both parties opposed the measure, which returns to the House for final agreement.

Tom Morgan, representing a spirits distributer, holds up a traditional beer-maker’s advertisement boasting a product’s “real spirits” as he speaks against a controversial wholesaling bill on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle) 

Senators also approved a contentious bill letting beer wholesalers sell liquor-based ready-to-drink cocktails.

State law provides for combined wholesale licenses — beer and wine, or liquor and wine — but generally doesn’t allow crossover. Manufacturers, however, are increasingly crossing those lines as they cash in on a mixed cocktail boom.

House Bill 1025 would put liquor-based mixed beverages under a wine license, allowing beer wholesalers to sell them.

Sen. Kyle Walker, R-Fishers, said the bill would “create competition” within the wholesale tier by allowing all license holders to sell the mixed ready-to-drink beverages.

Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis, argued it would “favor” beer wholesalers “over” wine wholesalers because the former enjoy certain protections under statute not available to the latter.

The bill passed on a 38-11 vote, with eight of the votes in opposition coming from defecting Republicans. It now goes to the governor for consideration.

— The Indiana Capital Chronicle covers state government and the state legislature. For more, visit