Rep. Joe Harding filed a bill this week that would allow parents who want to surrender their newborns to do so anonymously and safely.
Under Florida’s safe haven law, parents of unwanted newborns can safely relinquish them at hospitals, fire stations and emergency medical services stations. The law, in effect since 2000, allows parents to confidentially surrender infants up to 7 days old and grants them immunity from criminal prosecution unless there is actual or suspected child abuse or neglect.
HB 133 would expand the law to allow those locations to install “newborn infant safety devices,” known outside of proposed statute as “baby boxes.”
According to the bill, the devices would be akin to a secure night drop for unwanted infants.
The boxes would be outfitted with temperature, alarm and surveillance systems. Hospital, EMS or fire station staff would be required to monitor them around the clock, mostly from afar except for a twice-a-day physical check and a once-a-week systems test.
Also, the boxes would need to be “physically part of the hospital, emergency medical services station, or fire station” and “located such that the interior point of access is in an area that is conspicuous and visible to the employees.”
Outside of box specs, HB 133 also changes the safe haven laws’ infant turn-in deadline to 30 days.
Harding, a Williston Republican, is entering his first Legislative Session. This bill is not.
In the 2020 Legislative Session, Rep. Mike Beltran carried the baby box bill (HB 1217) and attracted co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. It breezed through its committee slate and earned near unanimous approval on the chamber floor.
It was abandoned in the Senate’s inbox, however, as the companion filed by Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley sputtered out after one committee stop in the early days of that Session.
Baxley is reprising his role as Senate sponsor. He filed his version, SB 122, earlier this month.
The bills dropped soon after Florida’s first baby box launched to much fanfare — residents, law enforcement, fire officials and politicians showed up for its unveiling at the new fire and police building in Ocala, according to the Ocala StarBanner.
Florida’s inaugural box was produced by Safe Haven Baby Boxes, which now claims 50-plus installs nationwide since 2016. The box cost about $15,000.
Statistics compiled by Safe Haven For Newborn Babies shows the box may have produced a different outcome for a few dozen infants in the state.
Since 2000, three Marion County infants have been abandoned in “non-safe” environments. In Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county, there have been eight instances.