by Jim Merritt

Indiana’s Lifeline Law is 10 years old.

In the shadow of the recent University of Missouri fraternity hazing horror where a young man consumed so much alcohol he no longer can speak, hear or walk, we mark 10 years of Indiana’s Lifeline Law. The experience of this groundbreaking law this past decade in our state has been a confluence of tragedy and success. Maximum effort has been expended in spreading the word about our underage alcohol amnesty law. Through tears and joy, countless lives have been saved since 2012.

In the Fall of 2011, various college student body presidents met with me to discuss writing legislation proposing a college campus over-served alcohol amnesty law. I asked them to allow me to consider the idea for 30 days. During that month, I grappled with several questions.  My kids were in college at that time and establishing this law would be in essence “looking the other way” and permit the breaking of the law. I was not anxious to send this message to Abby, Jennifer and Will.  In thinking about the Indiana General Assembly labyrinth, how do we convince a senate committee chairman that this counter intuitive measure would save lives and was worth a bill hearing and passage?  And of course, surmount the multiple hurdles of passing the Senate, the House of Representatives committee, the House floor vote and then Governor Daniels signing the bill into law as well.

Finally, thinking back to my days of establishing and marketing Indiana’s Safe Haven law, how do we communicate with 6+ million Hoosiers that the law actually exists?

After much thought, I came to the conclusion that if we save one life, tackling the Indiana government lawmaking process with a bill (and possible law) and its challenges would be well worth it.

The college student leaders and I met and agreed on strategy.  They would help write the legislation, testify on the bill in the various committees, lobby the members of the Indiana General Assembly and Governor Mitch Daniels. After all the effort, the bill passed without one NO vote and the Governor happily signed the legislation into law.  Indiana was one of first states in the union to adopt such a law.

Establishing the Lifeline Law was quite an achievement and yet in July, 2012 the challenge of spreading awareness of the new law loomed large and the new school year was approaching fast. Each August, college campuses have a thousands of 17-18 Year Old Freshmen with newly found independence away from their families. Celebrations like the high school prom and graduation are noteworthy times in the life of a teenager as well. A negative common denominator in all these benchmarks of life is the consumption of Indiana’s biggest drug: alcohol.  The obvious challenge is: how do we continually reach kids in these times of joy and freedom to make sure that should they or a friend make a mistake and are over-served with alcohol, the law exists and first responders can help them without fear of arrest.

To create a robust communication network I set out looking for partners. Heroes. Through tragedy two people came to fore immediately.  On August 3, 2012, 18 year old, Brett Finbloom was over-served at a party, fell ill and passed out. Kids attending the event panicked and did not call 911 for 45 minutes not knowing about the law. Tragically, Brett died 2 days later from alcohol poisoning.  Brett’s grieving parents, Norm and Dawn Finbloom stepped up and we were spreading the word about the Lifeline Law in schools all across Indiana that Fall. Other heroes have risen to the challenge of creating awareness. Indiana Youth Services Association has been at the epicenter. State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell was very supportive with E911 monies and led the charge so that ALL 92 Indiana counties can text to 911. Big Red Liquors among many other liquor retailers and distributors have constantly risen to the occasion in funding our awareness campaigns. John Griffin at Emmis Communications has served as an invaluable guardian angel in crafting and delivering our message. Heroes all. To date we have raised a total of $1.5 million dollars (and looking for more) to create awareness. The law and emergency responders have saved at least 55 lives that were self-reported. We know there are more.

The Lifeline Law has, indeed, made a difference. The key is to continue to reach out to teenagers and urge them to #MakeGoodDecisions.

We need more heroes.


Jim Merritt is a former State Senator.