A bill to provide greater protection for Indiana crime victims is on its way to becoming law.

Senate Bill 51 has passed both chambers of the state Legislature, gaining a 92-4 vote in the House of Representatives last week.

It makes several important changes for victims of crimes, especially young victims of sex offenders.

Among the key elements of the bill, if Gov. Eric Holcomb signs it into law:

• A parent, a guardian, or another representative could file a petition for a protective order on behalf of a child against a person who engages in sexual grooming activity. (Under current law, one Indiana mother found herself unable to do anything when an adult sent more than 1,000 text messages to her 14-year-old daughter.)

• A victim of a sex crime (including a child) could have his or her identity protected from the public.

• If a child younger than 16 years of age is summoned to testify as a witness to any hearing in any criminal matter, the child would be allowed to have a comfort item or comfort animal while testifying.

• If a person commits domestic battery, it would be raised to a Level 6 felony if the person has a prior conviction for strangulation.

• The bill closes a loophole in current law that potentially allows adults to engage in inappropriate sexual relations with children 13 or 14 years of age.

The bill calls for a legislative committee to study issues involving depositions of children who are victims of sex offenses. It calls for looking into the extent to which that process retraumatizes the victims.

Passing the bill marks “a victory for crime victims,” said David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

Not everything that happens in the Statehouse is controversial or divisive. We appreciate this positive change.

Bill guards school bus riders

Legislators also are working on a law to increase safety for school bus passengers, in response to a crash that killed three siblings while they were boarding a bus near Rochester last year.

Today’s front-page story brings the encouraging news that many local school districts already are following safe practices required by the bill.

The bill requires buses to drop off children on the right side of the roadway on major highways, so they do not have to cross traffic.

In its key element, the bill creates stiffer penalties for drivers who pass school buses that have their stop arms extended.

A 2018 survey produced a shocking report that drivers passed school buses illegally more than 3,000 times in a single day in Indiana.

Last week, state representatives slightly weakened the bill by removing a mandatory 90-day driver’s license suspension for offenders. The bill now gives a judge the option to suspend a license.

We hope legislators will not weaken the bill any further. Penalties must be strong enough to make Hoosier drivers deathly afraid of passing a school bus and endangering children.

OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.

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