Ottawa resident Angie Malik advocates for the legalization of baby boxes during a Monday committee meeting. (Screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)
TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers are debating the best way to implement baby drop-off boxes in an attempt destigmatize and create safer practices for child relinquishment.
Proposed legislation would allow Kansans to safely surrender custody of their infants by leaving them in bassinets equipped with locks, temperature control and alarm systems. House Bill 2024, discussed Monday in the House Child Welfare and Foster Care Committee, would amend Kansas’ newborn infant protection act. Under the act, anyone who has legal custody of an infant 60 days old or younger and has not physically harmed the infant can give physical custody of the infant to any on-duty employees at certain locations.
The locations include police stations, sheriff’s offices, law enforcement centers, city or county health departments, fire stations or any county health department without criminal or civil liability.
HB2024 would legalize safe “infant refuge bassinets” for baby drop-offs. Facilities that are designated for infant drop-offs would need to have a bassinet in a visible location.
The bassinet would have to be temperature-controlled, with an automatic lock on the outside and an alarm system. Facilities with installed bassinets would have to test out the bassinet alarm system once a week and visually check the bassinet twice per day.
People who drop off infants to these bassinets would be immune to criminal and civil liabilities. Lawmakers said the legislation would help protect young children from abandonment-related injury or death, creating safe new alternatives for relinquishing custody.
Angie Malik, an Ottawa resident testifying to lawmakers in support of the bill, said similar drop-off baby boxes were already implemented in eight states, with six more states passing legislation to install the boxes. Malik said the legislation would help people who were frightened to do in-person infant drop-offs, and would help promote safe anonymous infant relinquishments.
“Many women in crisis want and need anonymity when surrendering their newborn, either because of fear of being recognized, the stigma associated with surrendering their baby or fear of prosecution due to the lack of understanding the safe haven law,” Malik said. “The baby box is tangible, the safe haven law is not. By having a baby box in communities, you are providing an opportunity to further educate, bring awareness about the law and provide more options for parents in crisis.”
Rep. Paul Waggoner, R-Hutchinson, questioned the need for the bassinets. He asked if baby abandonment occurred frequently in the state.
“I vaguely heard of this concept. I can see some merit to it,” Waggoner said. “But how often do you have actual just child abandonment where somebody just leaves a kid wrapped in swaddling clothes at a laundromat or someplace. How many times in Kansas in a year?”
Malik said she didn’t have numbers for infant abandonment, and that part of the problem was that it’s difficult to document infant abandonment. Implementing the bassinets, she said, would help reduce unsafe abandonment practices.
McPherson Fire Chief T.J. Wyssmann testified in support of the bill, recounting a 2008 case in his city where law enforcement officials were called to go search for a discarded infant. The baby was found abandoned in a dumpster right before trash collection.
Wyssmann said installing the bassinets would prevent similar situations from happening, and also would help with some of the issues of face-to-face baby surrendering, giving the relinquishing person more ease of mind and control over the situation.
“Thinking about the people in this situation and the crisis that they’re facing, whatever it may be, we’re asking them to go hand that baby over to a first responder and endure the crippling embarrassment, the stigma with that, the shame and the unknown, because they don’t know if it’s illegal, what they’re doing or not,” Wyssmann said. “We’re putting them in an unrealistic situation.”
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