TALLAHASSEE – Florida could expand the number of days a parent can surrender a newborn baby at an authorized location and allow those sites to install a “baby box” so parents can leave an infant without face to face contact under a bill approved by a Senate committee Tuesday.
Florida now allows parents to anonymously surrender a newborn approximately seven days old at a hospital, fire station or emergency medical services station. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services voted 7-4 to expand that window to approximately 30 days after a baby is born.
It also would allow for a baby box at any of those facilities that are staffed 24 hours a day. The box would set off an alarm in the facility if a baby is placed in it. Staff also would be required to check the box every 12 hours and to test the alarm weekly.
“Many of these women are in very sketchy situations – dangerous situations – and they need anonymity. This provision opens a pathway. Under this present safe haven law, you really have to deal with the confrontation of finding someone to leave this child with,” said Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, the bill’s sponsor.
But Democrats said the current law is working, and they questioned if infants left in a box would truly be safe.
“There are some safety and security concerns that I have about this system. Who’s responsible if the box doesn’t function? If something happens to the baby when left in the box, I think, is a major concern,” Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer said. “The box system doesn’t provide for immediate care for the mother and the baby.”
Baxley said one of the boxes already exists in Ocala. There are also boxes in four other states.
There have been 324 babies surrendered in Florida since the safe haven law was enacted in 2000, compared to 62 that were abandoned in unsafe places, according to a legislative staff analysis.
The Senate bill has one more committee stop before being considered by the full Senate. An identical house bill is waiting for its first committee hearing.