By Team

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF/AP) — A proposal that would expand the number of days a parent can surrender a newborn baby at authorized drop off locations cleared a Florida Senate healthcare panel on Tuesday.

In addition, the bill would also allow those locations to install so-called “baby boxes” so parents can leave the infant without having to hand them over face-to-face to firefighters, paramedics and emergency personnel.

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Florida now allows parents to anonymously surrender a newborn approximately seven days old at a hospital, fire station or emergency medical services station. The bill would expand that window to approximately 30 days.

Facilities that are staffed 24 hours a day could install the drop off boxes. An alarm would sound alerting staff that a baby is inside.

Staff also would be required to check the box every 12 hours and to test the alarm weekly.

“Many of these women are in very sketchy situations — dangerous situations — and they need anonymity. This provision opens a pathway. Under this present safe haven law, you really have to deal with the confrontation of finding someone to leave this child with,” said Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, the bill’s sponsor. “I’ll I’m trying to do is simply rescue the child.”

But Democrats said the current law is working, and they questioned if infants left in a box would truly be safe.

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“There are some safety and security concerns that I have about this system. Who’s responsible if the box doesn’t function? If something happens to the baby when left in the box, I think, is a major concern,” said Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale. “The box system doesn’t provide for immediate care for the mother and the baby.”

Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, worried that Baxley’s bill doesn’t spell out what would happen with infants after they are placed in the boxes and would allow the Department of Health to adopt rules for regulation of the boxes.

“There are custody issues,”  Book said.

Baxley said one of the boxes already exists in Ocala. There are also boxes in four other states.

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.

The Senate bill has one more committee stop before being considered by the full Senate. An identical house bill is waiting for its first committee hearing.

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(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Christine Sexton and the Associated Press contributed to this report.) Team