Safe haven expansion considered

Nebraska would expand its safe haven provisions for infants under a proposal considered by the Judiciary Committee Feb. 7.

Sen. Rick Holdcroft
Sen. Rick Holdcroft

LB876, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Rick Holdcroft, would adopt the Newborn Safe Haven Act, which would provide additional options for a parent or a person acting on a parent’s behalf to release custody of an infant voluntarily. Current law allows only for the surrendering of infants 30 days or younger in person at a hospital.

In Nebraska, there were six cases of abandonment of children one year or younger in 2023, Holdcroft said, with only one baby surrendered under the current safe haven law.

“I believe LB876 directly addresses the disparity between these two numbers and should, in theory, reduce the number of abandonments to zero,” he said.

Under the bill, a parent or designee could surrender physical custody of an infant 90 days old or younger by contacting 911 and relinquishing the infant to emergency services. Without expressing intent to regain custody in the future, parents also could surrender custody of an infant at:
● an approved drop-off location, like a hospital or a fire or police station, with staff present 24 hours a day;
● a hospital or other health care facility directly following delivery of the newborn infant; or
● an emergency medical services provider through a newborn safety device.

The newborn safety device — a padded and climate-controlled receptacle designed for infants — would need to be visible to staff or have a motion sensor and dual alarm system. The dual alarm system would sound an alert when the receptacle opens, immediately notifying 911 and dispatching an emergency medical care provider to the box’s location.

The bill states legislative intent to appropriate $15,000 to the state Department of Health and Human Services in fiscal year 2023-24 for grants to purchase newborn safety devices for authorized drop-off locations. In addition, DHHS would receive $50,000 in FY2024-25 and $10,000 each year after to develop, implement and maintain a public information program to inform the general public of the Newborn Safe Haven Act.

No individual would be prosecuted solely for the act of surrendering a newborn under the bill’s provisions.

June Grummert, representing the National Safe Haven Alliance, spoke in support of the bill. She said that since the first safe haven law was introduced in the U.S. in 1999, 4,700 infants have been safely surrendered.

“We have an opportunity to provide safe and comprehensive options for [Nebraska] families in need of alternatives,” Grummert said.

Lucrece Bundy, an Omaha-based adoption attorney, offered support for the bill. Pregnant women often contact her office in search of resources and options, Bundy said, many of whom are “desperate.” One of the only options for these women currently is to find a family who will adopt the child, she said, and having another option could alleviate the pressure and desperation that they feel.

Also testifying in support of LB876 was Nate Grasz, speaking on behalf of the Nebraska Family Alliance. Grasz said that in Indiana, the first state in the U.S. to install newborn safety devices, there have been no infant deaths due to abandonment since its safe haven law was adopted in 2016.

“If this bill can help save one life here [in Nebraska] — it’s worth it — because we’re better when no life is disposable and when every child is given a chance at life,” he said.

No one testified in opposition to LB876 and the committee took no immediate action.

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