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House accepts infant measure

Legislators embrace a bill that would allow mothers to leave unwanted newborns at certain public places.

By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 25, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- In an attempt to prevent the deaths of abandoned newborns, the Florida Legislature is poised to allow mothers to leave their babies at hospitals or fire stations and walk away without fearing criminal charges.

The proposal has been approved by both the Senate and House, which voted for it 109-2 on Monday. Slight differences in the versions will force the Senate to take a final vote before sending the bill to Gov. Jeb Bush, who supports the concept.

Supporters of the legislation said it is aimed at giving desperate new mothers alternatives besides leaving their newborns to die in trash bins or on sidewalks. The mother could drop off a newborn, who would have to be 3 days old or younger, at a hospital or fire station without leaving her name.

"The whole bill's purpose is to please take a few extra steps and put the baby in the loving arms of someone," said Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa, one of the bill's sponsors.

Under the bill, mothers could reclaim their babies within 30 days after dropping them off before the effort to sever parental rights would begin.

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, questioned whether fathers of the newborns would have a tougher time claiming children who were dropped off under the new law. She and Rep. Alzo Reddick, D-Orlando, were the legislators who opposed the bill.

Murman said fathers won't be treated any differently under the legislation than they are in other situations in which parental rights are terminated and babies are adopted.

Legislative leaders unveiled the proposal last month, one day after prosecutors charged a 13-year-old mother with attempted murder for abandoning her baby in a Kissimmee trash compactor.

The abandoned Kissimmee baby, a 4-pound, 13-ounce girl named Rose, was found Feb. 27 and is in a foster home. The baby's mother told detectives she was worried about how her own mother would react to her pregnancy.

Murman said Monday it was another abandoned newborn found Feb. 24 in Tampa who motivated her to sponsor the legislation. Baby Benjamin was found alive in a garbage bag at the Carlton Arms apartments near Egypt Lake. He was two hours old.

The mother has not been found.

Baby Benjamin and Baby Rose were among six abandoned newborns found in Florida in the past month.

The legislation calls for hospitals to set up hotlines to local adoption agencies to place abandoned babies as quickly as possible. There also would be a $50,000 media campaign and public service announcements to publicize the new law, Murman said.

More than a dozen other states are considering similar measures.

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