The House approved on Wednesday HB 1217, a bill that would authorize hospitals and fire stations to install and use “baby boxes.”
The vote was an overwhelming 117-2.
The boxes are the equivalent of bank after-hours deposit portals but for unwanted newborns. The boxes would be privately funded.
Under Florida’s “safe haven” law initiated in 2000, parents of unwanted newborns can safely relinquish them at hospitals, fire stations and emergency medical services stations. That law allows parents to confidentially surrender infants up to 7 days old. It grants the parents immunity from criminal prosecution unless there is actual or suspected child abuse or neglect.
But confidentiality and anonymity are not the same thing. And there still are instances of newborn babies being abandoned in unsafe places, committee discussion revealed.
The baby boxes described in HB 1217, or something like them, are in use in six states.
The boxes would be installed through an exterior wall, with a secure door on the outside leading to an incubator-style bassinet, which is accessible from the inside. A silent alarm goes off inside the fire station or hospital if someone opens the outside door. Emergency personnel can then check the bassinet without seeing who might be outside.
Beltran’s proposed baby boxes would be optional for fire departments or hospitals that would like to have one. The bill would not mandate or fund the boxes.
A national nonprofit group, Safe Haven Baby Boxes, is both pushing for legislation like HB 1217, and raising and donating money for interested fire departments and hospitals to purchase and install the devices.
However, the Baxley bill stalled in committees.
Florida Politics’ Scott Powers and A.G. Gancarski contributed to this post.