Joe Harding files ‘baby box’ bill for parents giving up children

Safe Haven Baby Boxes
The devices would be akin to a secure night drop for unwanted infants.

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.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


One comment

  • Florida Voice for the Unborn

    December 31, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    Reporter Drew Wilson left out something important in his article. Even though the baby box legislation overwhelmingly passed in a bi-partisan fashion in the state House of Representatives earlier in 2020, it was held-up in the state Senate solely by pro-abortion Senator Lauren Book (D—Broward County). As chair of the Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs, Book refused to bring up the bill for a committee vote. Accordingly, this commonsense legislation died in the 2020 Legislative Session.

    After Senate President Wilton Simpson reappointed Book as chair of the Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs, Florida Voice for the Unborn issued a widely-circulated press release, expressing strong disappointment with Book’s reappointment. This December 2, 2020, press release cited, among other things, that Book had unfairly held-up the baby box bill during the 2020 Legislative Session. Florida Voice for the Unborn was the ONLY interest group that publicly – and forcefully – questioned why newly-installed Republican Senate President Simpson reappointed Book as committee chair. Here is the release’s concluding line:

    “If Book successfully obstructs any pro-life legislation whatsoever as chair of the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee during the 2021 Legislative Session, the fault will lie squarely with President Simpson.”

    Two days later, on December 4th, Senator Baxley refiled his baby box bill (as Senate Bill 122). And on December 9th, Senate leadership assigned Senate Bill 122 to three committees, which – this time around – does NOT include Senator Book’s Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee! There’s no doubt that the message of Florida Voice for the Unborn’s press release was heard loud and clear. You may read the entire press release on our website.

    Florida Voice for the Unborn will be working hard to get the baby box legislation passed and signed into law in 2021! Thank you to Representative Harding, Representative Beltran, and Senator Baxley for being true pro-life champions!

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