TOPEKA – Rep. Tim Johnson read aloud Psalm 82:3 twice to underscore the importance of a bill changing state law to allow for child abandonment by anonymously placing a child in a special container that it could be located at health care facilities as well as at police or fire stations.
Current Kansas law requires people who deliver a child to hand the child over to a person to avoid the threat of civil and criminal penalties. House Bill 2024 would expand the statute so that a person with legal custody of a child up to 60 days old can leave it in a container located in a structural wall of a designated facility. It would automatically lock to restrict access from the outside once a child has been placed inside. An alarm would alert people in the building to the child’s presence.
“Defend the weak and the orphans,” the Bonner Springs Republican proselytized to his brothers in the house. “Support the cause of the poor and oppressed”.
Johnson said the goal was to make it more likely that a child would transition to caregivers without risk of injury or death. Alarms linked to the temperature controlled wards would alert staff members to the need to take custody of a child. The child was reportedly promptly examined by a healthcare professional for evidence of “serious bodily harm” in case a law enforcement investigation was warranted.
No community facility eligible for the program would be required to install one of these child safety devices. The Kansas Department of Children and Families would be notified of any waivers. There would be a ban on certain disclosures of a delivered child under the new law.
“This is completely voluntary,” Johnson said. “No city, no county, no jurisdiction will be required to do this.”
Since 2017, she said, 18 children have been turned over to officials under existing state statute by parents who said they were unable to care for the children.
The House gave first-round approval to the bill on Tuesday, then passed it Wednesday by a 94-30 vote. The bill now goes to the Kansas Senate for consideration.
Rep. Emil Bergquist, R-Park City, said he has four grandchildren who were left in orphanages as babies or toddlers. The children were in their teens and twenties and doing well, he said.
“They had that opportunity for a turning point of a desperate mother, who for whatever reason had to let that child go,” she said. “I believe in second chances.”
In early February, the House voted to refer the bill back to the House Child Welfare and Foster Care Committee for amendments. The amended bill has met with opposition from both Republican and Democratic representatives.
Rep. Michael Houser, R-Columbus, said he was disappointed that the measure would allow a person giving up a child for up to 30 days to reverse that decision. Houser said he is anxious that a parent could unilaterally deliver a child without the approval of a spouse or partner.
“I’m not trying to discount this at all. This could be a good account. I just have a lot of concern about it. I’m not here to poop. I’m on a fact-finding mission,” Houser said.
Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichta Democrat, said it’s unclear how a parent who disagrees with the waiver could figure out where the child has gone given the level of donor parent anonymity outlined in the bill. He offered a hypothetical in which an Oregon mother traveling to Florida left a baby at a Wichita fire station without informing anyone else of the decision.
If a person came forward to assert parental rights, Carmichael said, the bill unreasonably mandated a DNA test to prove parentage rather than relying on a birth certificate or some other proof.
“I believe this bill has serious problems with implementation,” said Carmichael, who indicated that the concept was for children to be left in the equivalent of a kennel. “Is this legislation really necessary? I think it’s well intentioned, but we already have a law that provides immunity from prosecution.”
In a rebuttal during the floor debate, Johnson chafed at the suggestion that fences set up for this purpose were similar to a dog kennel.
“This offends me. These are children,” she said. “This is a child safety device. It is a tool. It will save lives”.