Miami Herald
Published Friday, March 10, 2000, in the Miami Herald

Baby dumping solution is filed

Public facilities would take infants

BY PHIL LONG
plong@herald.com

TALLAHASSEE -- In a dramatic effort to keep young mothers from tossing unwanted newborns into garbage dumps, key legislators Thursday unveiled a Baby Protection Bill that would let women leave their infants at fire houses and hospitals instead -- no questions asked.

Six babies were found abandoned in Central Florida in the past five weeks in places ranging from Dumpsters to church doorsteps. All lived. In one case, a 13-year-old girl is facing charges in juvenile court.

``This is absolutely horrifying to me, and it is happening all over the state of Florida,'' said Senate president Toni Jennings, R-Orlando. Jennings appeared at a press conference with the authors of the bill.

Under the proposed bill, parents would have the ``absolute right to remain anonymous'' and not be pursued by the state. Babies would taken by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and put into emergency shelter care. Parents would have 30 days to change their minds, then the babies would be put up for adoption. If someone changes her mind and claims the baby, mother and child would be tested for matching DNA.

The bill also would establish a hot line for pregnant women to call for help.

``The frightening thing is the number of babies we don't find,'' said Sen. John Grant, R-Tampa. ``We are dealing with a lot of young, frightened mothers, and we want to give them a safe haven.''

Texas passed a similar law last year. About two dozen other states are considering them.

From July 1998 to June 1999, 212 children age 2 or under were abandoned throughout the state, according to DCF figures. As in other states, most of the infants were abandoned in hospitals. There were no Florida figures on children abandoned in public places, including trash cans and Dumpsters.

Nationwide, an estimated 105 babies were abandoned in public places since 1998, according to a California study.

Legislators said that in some cases, unwed teens disguise their pregnancies so parents won't notice, then decide to abandon the child once it's born.

``The question here is do we want to save the lives of these young babies?'' said State Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa.

``It sounds like a very good initiative . . . dealing with something we really need to do something about,'' said Kate O'Day of Fort Lauderdale, vice president for program development of the Florida Children's Home Society.

Jack Levine, director of the Center for Florida's Children, a Tallahassee-based statewide advocacy alliance with 1,600 members, supports the measure, but he urged legislators to go much further.

``We need a stronger, more systemic investment in our teens at risk,'' Levine said.

Copyright 2000 Miami Herald