A bill that would protect newborns and provide a safe haven for them was unanimously approved by the House of Wednesday.
The proposal passed with a 117-2 vote, with only two Democrats — Representatives Susan Valdes and Matt Willhite — opposing it.
The measure (HB 1217), introduced by Rep. Mike Beltran, would authorize hospitals, emergency medical services stations, and fire stations to install newborn safety devices to accept surrendered newborn infants. The boxes, which will be privately funded, are similar to after-hours deposits at banks and are temperature controlled.
“I am confident that this bill will save babies that would otherwise be illegally abandoned,” Beltran said, following Wednesday’s vote.
The legislation would expand the existing Florida Safe Haven Law to include baby boxes as a legal option to surrender a baby. That law allows parents to safely relinquish their unwanted newborns to emergency medical services stations.
As it stands, it is legal to surrender a baby to a fire station without being questioned or being arrested. The face-to-face interaction, however, can be a big deterrent for people. Such an interaction discourages mothers from leaving newborns, causing mothers to abandon their newborns in unsafe places. Beltran’s bill seeks to remedy this issue, cutting out the interaction altogether.
Similar boxes currently exist in several states — including Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Arizona. They are located at fire stations and hospitals and allow the parent to remain anonymous.
Illegal infant abandonments continue to plague the state of Florida. The Sunshine State currently ranks among the highest in such cases of neglect.19 cases on abandonment have reported in the state since 2017.
A Senate companion bill (SB 864), introduced by Senator Dennis Baxley, has stalled in committees. Democrats like Senator Lauren Book has been a vocal opponent of the bill.
If the bill becomes law, the boxes will come at no cost to Floridians and will be fully funded by the Safe Haven Baby Boxes, a non-profit that offers services that go beyond the installation of a baby box.