Bill to add fire stations to baby-box sites clears Arkansas panel

Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (right) , R-Rogers, is shown with Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, in this 2017 file photo.

A bill that would allow people to leave unwanted babies in a "newborn safety device" at a hospital, fire department or law enforcement agency cleared a legislative panel on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 168, sponsored by Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, would amend The Safe Haven Act of 2001 to include fire departments, along with health care providers and law enforcement agencies in the original law, as places where people can leave newborn infants without risking prosecution for child endangerment.

The bill also would allow fire departments and law enforcement agencies that are staffed at all times to install the devices, which must be approved by a hospital, placed in an area visible to employees and connected to a "dual alarm system."

Monica Kelsey, chief executive of Safe Haven Baby Boxes of Woodburn, Ind., said three mothers have left babies in the organization's boxes since the first one was installed in Indiana in April 2016.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

The nonprofit group has eight boxes in Indiana and two in Ohio, she said. The boxes also are allowed in Pennsylvania, although none has been installed there yet, she said.

She said the organization leases the boxes for a one-time payment of $10,000.

The devices, accessible from the outside and the inside of a building, alert emergency personnel when the box is opened and a baby is placed inside. People also can push a button on the outside that triggers an additional alarm, she said.

In addition to the three babies left in boxes, 43 have been turned over to hospitals or fire departments across the country by mothers who were directed there when they called the organization's hotline looking for one of the boxes, she said.

"If you Google 'Safe Haven,' we're going to come up," Kelsey said.

The Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor recommended passage of the bill on a voice vote, with no members dissenting. It next goes to the full Senate.

A Section on 01/31/2019