LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska lawmakers got to work Friday in a rare special legislative session designed to repair a unique "safe haven" law that has unintentionally allowed parents to abandon nearly three dozen children as old as 17.
Legislators introduced bills calling for limits on the age of children who can be dropped off at hospitals in an effort to prevent newborns from being dumped in trash bins or other dangerous places.
Nebraska was the last state to enact such a law but didn't include an age limit. That has resulted in 34 children so far being abandoned there, some of them from other states. Even as the session to correct the law approached, a 5-year-old boy was dropped off at an Omaha hospital on Thursday night. Earlier in the day, a woman dropped off two teenagers at another Omaha hospital, but one of them, a 17-year-old girl, fled. Authorities have not found her yet. Two bills were introduced Friday; one proposes an age limit of 3 days, and the other would let parents drop off children as old as 15. But because several lawmakers plan to propose revisions that would limit the age at anywhere from 10 days to 1 year, the Legislature will probably approve an age somewhere in the middle. A public hearing on proposed changes is scheduled for early next week. State senators will then have three rounds of debate on the legislation, followed by a final vote as early as Nov. 21. If a revised safe-haven law is passed with a two-thirds majority, it could take effect as soon as the governor signs it. Gov. Dave Heineman has five days from the final passage of the bill to act. Heineman did not say Friday whether he would support age caps other than the 3-day limit he has suggested. There is no consensus among child welfare experts on what age limit works best. There are 11 different age limits under similar laws across the country, including 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months and 1 year.
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