ANNAPOLIS – A bill allowing mothers to legally abandon their newborns with any responsible person passed the Maryland House of Delegates Tuesday, ending – at least for a while – debate over the state’s safe haven laws.
The intent of the legislation is to prevent mothers from dropping their unwanted infants in trash dumps or leaving them on street corners. However, delegates have been divided on whether Maryland law should limit so-called safe havens to a few specific places.
“There are not too many times in your life that you are going to have an opportunity to push that green button and prevent a murder,” said House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s, encouraging the delegates to vote for the bill.
The Judiciary Committee broadened the original bill to allow all responsible persons to become so-called safe havens. The original bill would have allowed parents to anonymously leave their infants – three days old or younger – only at a police station, hospital, social service agency or firehouse.
The committee’s expansive changes left many delegates, including bill sponsor Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, unhappy.
Grosfeld, who first pushed for safe haven laws after a baby was abandoned in her county, said she would work to return the bill to its original form.
Grosfeld has pinned her hopes on the Senate, where a bill more like her original is expected to pass.
After session, safe haven legislation from both chambers will go before a conference committee composed of senators and delegates, who will ultimately decide what the law will look like.
“When this bill gets to conference committee we can work it out,” Grosfeld said. “We can bring it back.”
Other delegates also voted for the bill despite their concerns. It passed, 114-17.
“This bill got out of committee in a way that we may not have preferred,” said Delegate John A. Giannetti Jr., D-Prince George’s. “We may not like this bill but it is good social policy.”
Safe haven legislation, which had been widely supported by members, was not expected to be a contentious issue this session. Bills passed both the House and the Senate last year before dying in conference committee when members could not agree on whether often-unmanned firehouses should be included as safe havens.
– 30 – CNS 3/5/02