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House approves ‘Safe Haven’ expansion bill

BY ANNA BARRETT, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama House on Wednesday approved a bill that would expand the Safe Haven Law to allow someone to surrender an infant up to 45 days old at hospitals and fire stations.

Sponsored by Rep. Donna Givens, R-Loxley, and co-sponsored by 34 other representatives, House Bill 473 would also require law enforcement agencies to investigate whether the surrendered child has been reported missing. 

The bill was approved 100-0 and now moves to the Senate.

Givens’ bill also allows for “baby safety devices,” also referred to as “baby boxes” – usually built into walls at fire stations or other first responder centers where people can safely, anonymously leave an infant – to be funded through private donations. Givens said 10 are currently planned for fire stations near college campuses.

Givens said there are multiple goals behind the legislation.

“No. 1 is to save lives,” she told Alabama Daily News. “No. 2 is to put these babies in a loving environment that they can be cared for and seen after. No. 3 is to keep these mothers from being charged with manslaughter and to keep the babies out of ditches, out of Dumpsters, out of creek banks.”

Under existing law, an infant can only be surrendered up to 72 hours after birth and at a hospital. 

Givens told the House Children and Senior Advocacy Committee Tuesday that the first 10 boxes would be funded by a private donor and placed in the 10 largest cities near universities at 24/7 EMS stations. Givens said these baby boxes are large enough that the infant is not cramped. She also said that the boxes would be built into the wall of a 24/7 EMS station and would have a door on the outside and the inside of the station. Once the baby is placed in the box and the parent closes the door, Givens said the outside door will lock. A silent alarm notifies first responders a baby has been placed in the box.

She told Alabama Daily News that the first 10 areas to get a baby box are Mobile, Birmingham, Auburn, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, the Shoals area, Dothan, Baldwin County, Gadsden/Anniston area and Montgomery. 

Jonathan Schlenker, assistant attorney general for the Department of Human Resources, presented an amendment that clarifies where the baby can be left. 

He and Givens said this bill is just the beginning for the baby boxes throughout the state. 

“I think the hope is that over time that more fire stations and more others will step forward and be willing to take on the burden of having a baby box,” Schlenker said.

A similar bill was filed in the Senate this session, but failed in the Senate Children and Youth Health Committee in mid-April.

Sponsored by Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, Senate Bill 209 differs slightly from HB473. Instead of expanding the timeline in which a child could be surrendered, the bill would expand the places in which a child could be surrendered, including emergency medical services stations, fire stations or law enforcement agencies. 

Stutts said that his bill had too much opposition from ADHR.

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