Safe Haven bill advances

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The time limit when a parent can surrender an infant without facing questions or prosecution would be doubled from 30 days to 60 days under legislation that was approved by the House Health and Welfare committee on Tuesday.

House Bill 173, which would amend the state’s “Safe Haven” statute, now goes to the full state House of Representatives for consideration.

State Sen. Lowell C. Hazel, R-Pineville, said he sponsored the change because of several recent cases of parents killing their newborns in central Louisiana.

Initially, HB173 extended the Safe Haven age from 30 days old to 1 year old.

Safe Haven allows a parent to relinquish his or her rights and drop off a child between 5 days and 30 days of age at specified facilities, such as fire stations and hospitals, without being questioned. The program protects the parent from being prosecuted for abandoning the child.

The law’s aim is to reduce the number of infants left to die in trash bins, parks and other places.

Hazel said 13 states have a 72-hour age limit on the infant, 15 states have a 30-day limit, and two states have a 1-year limit.

Texas and South Dakota have the 60-day age limit that he proposes, Hazel said.

Between 2000 and 2013, the state has recorded 24 Safe Haven relinquishments, said Suzy Sonnier, secretary of the state Department of Children and Family Services.

But data also shows that in 2011, Louisiana had the third-highest rate of bad outcomes involving infants and their parents.

Sonnier said she was concerned about the child bonding with family members and asked that the time limit be reduced from 1 year to 60 days, to which Hazel and the committee members agreed.

Sonnier said Safe Haven is intended to provide for a crisis situation.

Parents who want to voluntarily surrender their children can do so at any age at one of the agency’s offices. But, if the child is surrendered to an agency office, then the parents will be questioned and counseled.

The committee reported HB173 favorably to the full House without opposition.