A proposal initially called the “baby box” bill passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee — but, without the box part.
The committee approved Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley’s bill (SB 122) in a unanimous vote Monday. But, after encountering turbulence and party-line votes in its first two hearings, the bill became a shell of itself following a late-filed, strike-all amendment that passed in its final committee.
Now, the bill only extends the age at which an infant may be lawfully relinquished, adjusting it from 7 days old to 30 days old.
“We’ve had some intense discussions,” Baxley said at Monday’s committee meeting.
Before the amendment, the bill authorized the placement of surrendered infants in newborn safety devices at medical and emergency facilities staffed 24 hours per day. It also set up regulations around the use and maintenance of the box.
Despite pushback from the Senate, the House has already passed its version of the bill (HB 133), which retains the original “baby box” language. That legislation was filed by Republican Reps. Mike Beltran and Joe Harding, and passed the House 108-11.
The Senate bill, although now missing the meat of the legislation, is advancing further than it did last year.
The House passed the bill last year 117-2, 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.
A handful of senators praised the strike-all amendment, including Book, who thanked Baxley for his cooperation.
“You and I have gone back and forth on this one for quite some time,” Book said. “I appreciate where we came to and I want to thank you — you’re steadfast in everything that you want to do to protect children and I am thankful for that.”
Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer was a bit more direct, expressing support for the current system, which he said has been “incredibly effective” for more than 5,000 women, fewer than 400 of whom decided to surrender their infant after receiving counseling services from the emergency personnel.
“I’m glad we moved this bill in a good direction,” Farmer said. “The system’s working. We had very, very serious concerns about this box concept. Why not just keep what we’re doing and have hospital personnel and fire department personnel be there to sort of guide the mother, and if she ends up giving up the baby then we have a great process for that, but the real success story here is the counseling services that end up keeping the families together.”
Other senators, including Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Kelli Stargel, expressed disappointment in the amendment, but overall optimism with the age extension the bill would establish.
“I know this was a hard bill, I know your heart is with the kids,” Stargel said. “Being able to surrender a child, being able to move the length of time to be able to surrender a child, I think is a huge win when a family is struggling to be able to still have that opportunity to give that child a great life when they know that they couldn’t adequately care for it.”
Baxley closed his bill with a passionate statement, saying, “The one thing I know, I will never, never quit fighting for their lives.”