House ‘baby box’ bill clears final committee

Safe Haven Baby Boxes
The bills are now waiting to be picked up on the House floor.

The House Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved a set of bills Tuesday evening, and in doing so, sent both to the House floor.

The bills include one that would allow for the use of “baby boxes” to surrender unwanted newborn infants, and another that would let hospitals provide patients being discharged with an extended supply of prescription medication.

Republican Rep. Joe Harding presented the “baby box” proposal (HB 133). The bill 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 boxes would lock from the exterior once an infant is placed inside, and first responders would have to open it from inside, removing personal contact with the surrendering parent.

“Since safe haven laws have existed in Florida, there’s been over 62 children unsafely abandoned, and over half of those perished,” Harding said at the meeting. “That’s an issue that we need to look to solve.”

Harding also amended the bill at the committee meeting, adding a requirement for the Florida Department of Health to review and approve newborn infant safety devices for use at sites able to install the boxes under the bill. The amendment also grants the DOH general rule-making authority to implement a review and approval process.

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

The bill would also raise the maximum age of a child that mothers may surrender to 30 days, a provision that garnered support from Tampa Democratic Rep. Susan Valdés, who cast the only disapproving vote in the bill’s first committee.

The Senate version of the bill (SB 122) is having a harder time in committee. Introduced by Sen. Dennis Baxley, the proposal passed through its first two committees and is waiting to be heard in its final.

The other proposal the committee sent to the House floor comes from Wellington Democratic Rep. Matt Willhite. The legislation would allow hospitals to provide prescription drugs to patients even after they’ve been discharged.

The legislation (HB 29) gives hospitals the authority to continue dispensing prescription drugs to patients for up to 48 hours. That period would be extended if a patient is released during a holiday period or during a state of emergency.

The bill passed unanimously in its first committee.

The bill aims to ensure patients are not left without an option to obtain necessary medication.

Willhite filed a similar bill during last year’s Session. It earned unanimous approval in three House committees — the Health Quality Subcommittee, the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee and the Health and Human Services Committee — but died on the House floor.

Sen. Gayle Harrell filed the Senate version of the bill (SB 262). It is scheduled to appear in its first committee Wednesday. The legislation, titled “Dispensing Medical Drugs,” would go into effect on July 1, 2021.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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