Special Session to Deal With Nebraska 'Safe Haven' Law
Next month, Nebraska lawmakers will have a special session to consider revising the state's safe haven law to make it only apply to infants up to 3 days old, reports NTV.
In a press release issued Wednesday morning, Gov. Dale Heineman said, "After consulting with the Speaker of the Legislature, I am calling a special session for November 14 to correct Nebraska's safe haven law. A proposed three day safe haven law that the legislature has agreed to will be introduced by Speaker Flood on my behalf."
In the last four days, four children have been abandoned in Nebraska, reported the radio station KFAB today.
On Tuesday, a 15-year-old girl and 17-year-old boy were left at hospitals in separate incidents. Another 15-year-old girl was left at an Omaha hospital on Monday, and on Saturday, a woman who had driven from Georgia left her 12-year-old son at a hospital in Lincoln.
The boy from Atlanta was scheduled to return home today, reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His mother was scheduled to be in court for a hearing that, “may determine whether the boy rejoins his family or becomes a foster child,” the paper said.
The woman, identified by the paper as Tysheema Brown, was quoted as saying she, “didn’t feel like I had any other choice” but to drive the boy 1,000 miles to Nebraska, in hopes that officials there would enroll him at Boys Town, a well-known center for troubled youth.
She spoke to her son Monday night, and said to the paper, “He’s doing fine. He’s not wanting to come back and wind up in a foster home."
According to AP, “His spokeswoman would not say whether Heineman will announce at the news conference Wednesday that he's calling a special legislative session to change the law."
On Oct. 20, officials in Nebraska declared that they would revise the state’s controversial safe haven law when the legislature reconvenes in January.
Heineman said, “This law has had serious, unintended consequences,” and State Sen. Mike Flood, the speaker of the legislature, indicated that at least 40 of the 49 legislators were prepared to change the wording of the law, according to The New York Times.
Nebraska’s version of the law says that the state would protect any “child” left by his or her guardians, leaving out the age limit requirement that other states mandate. Officials in Nebraska say they will make the revised law only apply to newborns up to three days old.
The governor said he could call a special session of the legislature if more incidents were to occur before next year, but he said, “I’d prefer not to do that, given how close we are to January.”
The Omaha World-Herald reports that the new state law, which has resulted in the abandonment of several children and teens, has created a rift between parents and social services.
Of those abandoned, seven have diagnosed or suspected behavioral problems or mental illness, the paper reported. In one case, a father abandoned nine of his children after he was unable to care for them following his wife’s death last year.
Safe haven laws exist generally to provide parents with an alternative to aborting, or harmfully discarding children. Nebraska's is unlike any other states in that children up the the age of 18 can be legally left at hospitals.
According to the North Platte Bulletin, leaving a child at a hospital under the safe haven law doesn’t mean a parent can abandon all rights.
“There seems to be a misconception that when a child is dropped off at a hospital, the parents are absolved of responsibility. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Todd Landry, director of the state’s Division of Child and Family Services, in an interview with the Bulletin. “I am very concerned about the situations we’ve seen so far. I empathize with parents who aren’t sure where to turn, but I want to encourage those families to use other options before taking the drastic step of abandoning a child.”
The safe haven law means a parent won’t be charged for abandonment, but abuse charges could still be filed if there is evidence to support them, Landry said.
A blogger called Marley Greiner wrote, “The casualties pile up in Nebraska,” on the site The Daily Bastardette. “While Nebraska’s children are ‘legally’ dumped by their parents at an alarming rate under this Draconian law, state legislators sit on their thumbs discounting and ignoring the damage to Nebraska children, families, and communities,” Greiner wrote.
Lauren Kniesly, who writes the blog Baby Love Child, said, “what I do know is that kids, particularly minors are going to internalize this and live with the Nebraska’s legislators’ social experimentation for the rest of their lives.”
“Child abandonment is evidence of a severely broken system. Passing the hard effects of that down to children, those least able to cope with such is nothing less than a cowardly shirking of duty,” Kniesly said.
Others had criticized the law before it took effect. At the blog Bad Breeders, Trench Reynolds said the Nebraska law was the “most vague” of the widely varying state laws. “There needs to be a federally uniform safe haven law since the states can’t seem to get it together and for the most part have not prevented baby dumpings,” Reynolds wrote.
A group called Bastard Nation argues that safe haven laws, while trying to protect babies from being abandoned and possibly killed, “strip the infant of all genetic, medical and social history.” That’s just one problem the group cites with safe haven laws, which they say are unnecessary. Bastard Nation is an “organization dedicated to the equal treatment and dignity of all adopted citizens.”