Access to restroom bill goes to Senate

INDIANAPOLIS — Ashley Morelock-Reuter didn’t expect to get emotional when she spoke before a Senate committee at the Statehouse this week. She lives with a disease that can be hard to talk about, but she found the strength to speak out on behalf of others who suffer from it.

Morelock-Reuter, a 30-year-old Greenfield native who now lives in Indianapolis, has a deep understanding of a bill making its way through the Indiana General Assembly, which proposes to pass the restroom access act in Indiana, requiring retail businesses without public restrooms to allow people with an inflammatory bowel disease to use their employee-only facilities.

She testified this week in favor of Senate Bill 361, which took one step closer to becoming law thanks to her efforts. The bill was filed by Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, a member of the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee. It passed through the committee this week on an 8-3 vote and moves to the Senate floor.

Morelock-Reuter lives with two inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease. Each has symptoms of persistent diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain, and rectal bleeding, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

People with those diseases often require speedy access to a restroom. Should Senate Bill 361 become law, patients would receive medical cards they could show to retailers if they need to use the employee-only bathroom.

Morelock-Reuter spoke this week about living with inflammatory bowel diseases, which affects about 1.6 million Americans, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

At 4 years old, she was one of the youngest people in the United States to be diagnosed with colitis, she said; at 13, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. From then on, she had to tailor her lifestyle to cope with the disease, she said, and has suffered humiliation from teachers in middle school and college who weren’t sympathetic to her situation. That’s why she’s lobbying for change. More than a dozen states have passed the restroom access act.

“People with these diseases, we feel like a burden to our friends and family for every shopping trip cut short, every missed opportunity,” she said.

Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, who sits on the health committee that heard Morelock-Reuter’s testimony, said he appreciated the woman’s story. It’s not unreasonable to ask retailers to give people with an inflammatory bowel disease access to their restrooms, Crider said. He voted in favor of the bill.

He said he expects there to be some debate as the bill moves forward, as some businesses might not be comfortable with it, he said.

“If it’s possible, we should try to create a situation where we can create a more normal life for people like Ashley,” Crider said.

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.