Baby box bill sails through first House panel despite Senate struggles

Safe Haven Baby Boxes
The Senate version is moving despite 'work to be done.'

A bill to expand the ways mothers can surrender newborn infants by providing a “safe haven baby boxes” option achieved near unanimous support Tuesday in its first House panel.

That legislation (HB 133), filed by Republican Reps. Mike Beltran and Joe Harding, would add the option for surrender sites like hospitals, police departments and fire departments to install climatized and lighted drop boxes that are outfitted with interior cameras and sensors to alert first responders when an infant is placed inside. The slot on the building’s exterior locks, and first responders must open it from inside, removing personal contact with the surrendering parent.

State law currently allows mothers to anonymously hand over newborn children seven days or younger to first responders.

The bill would also double the maximum age of a child that mothers may surrender to 30 days, a provision that garnered support from Tampa Democratic Rep. Susan Valdés. With her no vote, the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee voted 16-1 to advance the bill.

Proponents of baby boxes say it would create a fully anonymous option for mothers of newborns to surrender unwanted infants they can’t care for.

Harding, of Williston, pointed to 58 instances of children recovered in Indiana, where the largest baby box organization, Safe Haven Baby Boxes, originated.

According to a legislative staff analysis, 386 newborns have been abandoned in Florida since 2000 when a state law about abandoning babies at fire stations or hospitals was first passed. Of that total, 324 were abandoned in such safe circumstances. Of the 62 infants not safely abandoned, 32 died.

“Fifty percent is good in sports and it makes you an All-Star, but 50% when it comes to life isn’t good enough,” Harding said.

Macclenny Republican Rep. Chuck Brannan, a retired law enforcement official, recalled driving in his patrol car one morning when he saw a newborn abandoned near the approach to the interstate. He wasn’t able to track down the baby’s mother because of HIPAA regulations, but he said he believes placing the baby in the triangle of an intersection was an attempt have someone spot the child.

“For those that might be worried about a baby box, that’s a lot better than in the middle of an interchange at the interstate,” Brannan said.

The House passed the bill last year on a 117-2 vote, but the Senate version stalled in the committee process at the hands of Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee Chair Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat. Valdés was one of two House votes against the bill’s final passage in 2020.

Of note, West Park Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones voted in favor of the bill as a House member last year but has voted against it twice this year in committees.

Unlike Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley‘s version (SB 122), which encountered turbulence and party-line votes in its two hearings so far, Beltran and Harding’s bill experienced mostly smooth sailing even after facing several questions.

School speakers could teach about baby boxes, members of the public told the committee. Valdés implored the panel to “get to the root of the problem,” instead of teaching about baby boxes in classrooms.

“Let’s talk about abstinence. Let’s talk about birth control. Let’s talk about holding folks accountable,” she said.

Lauderdale Lakes Democratic Rep. Patricia Williams told the panel she was able to vote yes because the bill left the choice to install baby boxes to local governments. The provision extending surrender to 30 days also garnered her support.

After a nearly hour-long discussion in the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee last week, Chairman Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, said the discussion underscored that there’s “work to be done.”

The House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee meeting was the House bill’s first meeting. Harding appeared to anticipate opposition to his bill with an appeal to the panelists’ desire to care for children.

“Even in areas of disagreement, we unite behind that one thing, and I think that’s so critical,” Harding said.

Both bills are now in their final committee stop, with the House version next up for a hearing in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

The meeting was also Harding’s first time presenting a bill, and the freshman Representative challenged his colleagues to bring on the hazing.

However, debate on the sensitive topic remained serious until the very end when Committee Chairman Thad Altman helped send off the bill on a lighthearted note. The Indialantic Republican pranked Harding by saying the panel couldn’t vote on the bill because Beltran, the prime co-sponsor, was absent.

“There is another provision, rule point 7 point 4 5, special exemption for rookie mistakes, one time over,” Altman deadpanned. “We can overcome that.”

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


4 comments

  • Madelaine Lee

    February 16, 2021 at 8:04 pm

    Thank you for the information! Although I will let you know the law Is that a baby can be surrendered up until 7 days old, but is extended to 30 days.

  • Florida Voice for the Unborn

    February 16, 2021 at 11:01 pm

    There are a few errors in this otherwise surprisingly balanced article. First, House Bill 133 passed by an overwhelming margin of 16-to-1 (not 10-to-1). 11 Republicans joined with 5 Democrats to support this commonsense, pro-life bill. Second, House Bill 133 is IDENTICAL to Senator Baxley’s Senate Bill 122. Third, HB 133/SB 122 changes the time-limit for surrendering newborns from the current 7 days-old limit to 30 days-old (not 60 days-old).

    As Florida Voice for the Unborn’s executive director correctly told the members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services when he testified before that subcommittee on February 9th: “This bill is a no-brainer. Opposition to it is manufactured purely for political theater or based on disinformation.” Today’s near unanimous vote in favor of House Bill 133 proved him right beyond a shadow of a doubt!

    Senator Book, Senator Farmer, and their like-minded friends in the Senate could learn a LOT from their Democratic colleagues in the House! Thank you, Rep. Harding, Rep. Beltran, and Senator Baxley as well as all other legislators that have supported this popular legislation thus far! The Baby Box Bill will pass during the 2021 Legislative Session and will become law! It will save lives!

  • Madelaine Lee

    February 17, 2021 at 8:22 am

    Jean Michael Morrisey, Baby boxes aren’t a scam, they have already saved 10 lives. The article you shared said no babies were abandoned in New England in 2020 due to young women promoting the current safe haven laws. As much as I wish that were true- and certainly we desperately need to promote current safe haven laws, that isn’t the case. NBC reported on an 8 month old baby that was found alive in a dumpster in New Haven Connecticut in October 2020. https://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/baby-found-abandoned-in-dumpster-released-from-hospital/2348479/

    Yes we must spread awareness of what is in place, but I know people, and I know there are many who are too ashamed to look someone in the eye and say “I don’t want my baby” or “I want the best for my baby and it’s not me”. In Florida during this meeting one of the Council members stated that when he was a policeman he found a newborn baby in an intersection covered in ants… (Thankfully the baby was healthy other than the ant bites) The mother clearly wanted the baby found but still abandoned the baby unsafely. I implore you to stop fighting with that Safe Haven Baby Boxes cause. If you love the babies then let us work together to spread an array of options for mothers and babies in crisis. I believe that spreading awareness of the safe havens laws would lead to less babies being abused or unsafely abandoned, but human nature being what it is, many would still refuse to go through the shame of directly handing there baby to someone- which is why, I’m sure, there have been babies left outside of hospitals, and firehouses rather than brought inside and handed to someone. Some women want to leave their baby safely, but can’t bring themselves to take the baby inside, leaving the baby vulnerable to abduction or dying due to being left out in the cold, or heat for too long before someone finds them.

    I implore you to choose peace rather than fighting. It simply isn’t a scam. We can save lives together.

    Also, just in case you are unaware, there is a hotline for women in crises provided by Safe Haven Baby Boxes. Their goal is to help the mother to keep the baby. They know that if possible it is best for a child to be raised with it’s family. They council the women to go to pregnancy crisis centers, however if that is not possible, or the mother refuses then safely placing the baby in a temperature controlled safety device that alerts personnel and locks from the outside after the door is closed is certainly better than leaving the baby in an intersection. Here is a video on how they work if you’re worried about how safe it is. The video ia only 1 minute. https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/national/how-a-baby-box-works/2016/05/05/1a937c24-12a3-11e6-a9b5-bf703a5a7191_video.html

    Have a lovely day,
    -Madelaine Lee

Comments are closed.


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