Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Bill to expand abandoned infants law goes to Senate

Parents of newborns would have up to 30 days to surrender their baby at a state-approved safe place without facing criminal charges under legislation that’s on its way to the Senate.

Current law gives parents 72 hours after a child is born to leave the baby at a hospital, police or fire station or with emergency medical services personnel if they feel unable to keep the child. House Bill 97, sponsored by House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, would expand that to 30 days and add churches or other places of worship to the list of approved safe places where a child could be surrendered.

Parents would not face charges for surrendering the baby as long as the child is not injured.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 92-0 today.

House Minority Caucus Chair Stan Lee, R-Lexington, voiced concerns with a floor amendment to the bill that he said would open safe places—namely churches—up to liability for negligence should they become safe places under HB 97. The bill would give churches and other safe places allowed under the bill immunity from civil or criminal liability for taking in a child, but the amendment, which narrowly passed by a vote of 44-43, would allow liability for negligence should the child be injured while in a safe place’s care.

“If you want churches to essentially be able to be sued, then you’ll want to support this floor amendment,” said Lee. “I would encourage you to vote against this floor amendment.”

Burch said churches should not be exempt from liability for negligence involving a child.

“Had we allowed churches not be sued you would not have seen all these sexual abuse cases brought (in recent years),” he said.

Lee said that “has nothing to do with trying to save newborn babies. If we really want to save newborn babies then I think we ought to afford these churches immunity from civil liability.”

Rep. Donna Mayfield, R-Winchester, thanked Burch for working with her to offer the option of places of worship as a safe place under HB 97. “I believe that if only one parent is led to know they can leave a child, a newborn at a church, a staffed house of worship, and it saves one baby’s life then I think it’s worth (it),” said Mayfield.