INDIANAPOLIS – Two bills authored by state Sen. James Merritt pertaining to the opioid epidemic in the state were passed through the Indiana Senate Committee on Monday.

Merritt, R-Indianapolis, said the bills are two of many that will be proposed as a way to combat the current crisis that Indiana faces.

“This is one of 19 bills this year that offer a comprehensive approach to the opioid and heroin crisis we have in this state,” he said. “It is so widespread that we are not going to be able to do it all this year.”

First, Senate Bill 9 was presented to the committee that would lift the partial ban in Indiana on convicted felons of drug charges receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

“You can commit murder in the state of Indiana, go away to the Department of Corrections, do your time and receive SNAP,” Merritt said while introducing the bill.

But the same can’t be said for people with drug convictions of possession, use or distribution of drugs.

Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, asked if Indiana has a full ban as Merritt presented, and she said she believed Indiana only had a partial ban. Emily Bryant, executive director of Feeding Indiana's Hungry, said Indiana does have a partial ban, but it is very specific and only for a certain amount of time for those who are convicted that are going through a drug court or re-entry program. Otherwise, those convicted have a lifetime ban and cannot receive SNAP benefits.

Bryant quoted 2006 data that showed the average felon who this bill would pertain to only earns $9,000 annually. She said this bill could be the key to helping those people get clean and helps them transition to economic stability.

Seven people from various organizations that help people with drug addictions testified to the need for the bill. Indiana Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, asked if she could be added to the bill.

The bill passed through the committee, 8-1. Houchin voted against it because she would prefer to amend the partial ban instead of replacing it.

Senate Bill 446 was then presented to the committee. The bill would establish an Opioid Addiction Recovery Pilot Program to assist expectant mothers with an opioid addiction by providing treatment in a residential care facility and home visitation services following discharge from the residential care facility.

Merritt said the bill was one of multiple bills that will focus on women with addiction.

“There are very few opportunities for women who are addicted to drugs to get help and we will focus on that this session,” he said.

The program would help fill a gap in funding and services that would target expecting mothers with addiction issues who do not have an open case with the Indiana Department of Child Services.

Merritt had two amendments passed for the bill that included the program could be used for women who are using medically assisted therapies to fight their drug addiction and helping women who are pregnant past their first child.

Shannon Shumacher, executive vice president of Volunteers of America, said the program is needed to fill a gap and help the vulnerable expecting mothers.

“It’s a preventative program, really, for keeping these moms and these babies from being caught up in the system and giving these moms a chance,” she said.

Medical professionals testified as well, asking to have both psychiatric and obstetrics observation over participants in the potential program.

After being passed unanimously, the bill will now move on to the Appropriations Committee.

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