ANNAPOLIS – The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Tuesday unanimously passed its version of safe haven legislation – just a day after the Maryland House of Delegates doused firefighters’ protests and passed the measure 115-19.
Although both the Senate and the House safe haven bills work to give immunity to desperate mothers who abandon their unharmed newborns, the House bill allows fire and rescue employees, social service employees, hospital workers, or police officers to take custody of the baby.
The Senate bill, however, restricts safe havens to hospitals.
That restriction may prove be a stumbling block to passage in both chambers, given the happenings in the House, where public agencies fought for and against their inclusion as a safe haven.
While social service employees battled to be included in the measure, firefighters wanted no part of it, and introduced an amendment to exclude them.
Delegate James E. Malone Jr., D-Baltimore County, a lieutenant in the Baltimore County Fire Department and firefighter for more than 25 years, introduced the change.
Although he supports the bill, Malone said he and the Maryland State and District of Columbia Firefighter Association, are uneasy about Marylanders perceiving fire houses as safe havens because the stations often sit empty.
“We are not against the bill . . . I know what they’re trying to do,” said Malone, “but I just want to make sure people know we’re not always there. It has nothing to do with firefighters not wanting to save lives.”
While police stations and hospitals are open 24 hours every day, he said, “in some firehouses, they’re not around for a week.”
Still, sponsor Delegate Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, insists firehouses should be safe havens.
“I hope they will accept the responsibility the same way they would respond to another crisis situation,” Grosfeld said. “It just didn’t seem logical to have them excluded from the category.”
Delegate Ann Marie Doory, D-Baltimore, vice-chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee that sent the measure to the floor, agreed. Firehouses may not be fully staffed, but the committee took that into consideration, she said.
The committee debated various aspects for hours, said Doory, and determined a baby must be left with a person.
“This,” said Grosfeld, “is not drop the baby off.”