Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 106
04/25/2006 03:00 PM HEALTH, EDUCATION & SOCIAL SERVICES
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 322-SAFE SURRENDER OF BABIES 3:04:16 PM CHAIR WILSON announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 322, "An Act relating to infants who are safely surrendered by a parent shortly after birth." 3:04:35 PM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON moved to adopt Version 24-LS1110\F, Mischel, 4/19/06. There being no objection, Version F was before the committee. 3:05:30 PM CHRISTINE MARASIGAN, Staff to Representative Gabrielle LeDoux, Alaska State Legislature, introduced HB 322 on behalf of Representative LeDoux, sponsor. She paraphrased from the following statement, which read [original punctuation provided]: Thank you for the opportunity to testify, I am here today to introduce the Safe Surrender of Infants Act, HB 322. HB 322 has the potential to save an infant's life. This is a bill that will allow parents to safely surrender an infant up to three days after birth without fear of being criminally prosecuted. There are 46 states that have enacted safe haven laws. Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska and Vermont are the only states that have not passed this type of legislation. In Texas, this legislation was known as the "Baby Moses Law" in other states this is known as "Save Haven Law." The intent of this bill is to deter typically young and unmarried women who are concealing their pregnancies, giving birth in private and then disposing their newborn's bodies. This bill would save an infant in imminent danger and enable a parent to avoid prosecution if they leave an infant at a designated safe location. Representative LeDoux's office has worked with the Office of Children's Services in working on the draft before you. 3:06:38 PM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO inquired as to how the father fits into this legislation. He asked if the father can surrender his infant or object to the surrender of his infant. MS. MARASIGAN pointed out that the language in the legislation refers to "parent". She noted that some states require that only the mother can surrender an infant. However, under the current legislation, either parent could surrender the infant. 3:07:05 PM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO posed a situation in which the father objects to the surrender of the infant, and asked if the infant would have to be surrendered to the father. Or, can the privileges of the father be usurped and the infant be surrendered to a hospital even if the father objects. MS. MARASIGAN related her understanding that the intent is to address an infant in imminent danger and thus the infant would be in the charge of the authorities to whom the infant was surrendered to until any issues were addressed. CHAIR WILSON surmised, "So, in other words, ... if someone objected, they would want the baby and we're talking about babies that aren't wanted." MS. MARASIGAN agreed. 3:08:00 PM REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA inquired as to how this legislation fits into current child welfare laws. She asked if the legislation provides for the infant temporarily after which the infant moves through the regular termination of parental rights. MS. MARASIGAN deferred to department representatives. 3:08:53 PM TAMMY SANDOVAL, Deputy Commissioner, Office of Children's Services (OCS), Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), explained that under the legislation if a child is safely surrendered, the department would be notified and all of the same procedures currently in practice would apply. With regard to the father's role, Ms. Sandoval specified that as is currently the case, the department would attempt to locate the father. In further response to Representative Cissna, Ms. Sandoval specified that HB 53 indicates that when there is the need for a placement decision, the preference list specifies the following people in the following order: a relative, family friend, licensed foster care, and then a facility. Therefore, all the laws that currently apply would continue to apply with these cases. 3:10:38 PM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO posed a scenario in which the mother surrenders the infant and the father arrives a day later to take his infant. He asked what happens in such a case. MS. SANDOVAL said that once custody is assumed, the state is obligated to go to court for probable cause. The father could engage in the process, but ultimately the judge determines what happens at that point. 3:11:30 PM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO asked whether the father could surrender the infant without the mother's knowledge. Once the mother receives a call that [the infant was abandoned], would the mother have to go through court proceedings, he asked. MS. SANDOVAL replied yes. She explained that once the department assumes custody, the normal procedures apply. However, the process could be cut short because the other parent enters the scene. Ms. Sandoval emphasized that although the [surrender of an infant] is a very rare occurrence because other avenues for a parent to have someone else care for an infant are well known, having the statute is important. In response to Chair Wilson, Ms. Sandoval assured the committee that the department does check to determine whether an individual [has the wherewithal] to [care for the child]. However, she said that the aforementioned is highly controversial when the parent for whom there are no allegations comes forward and wants custody of the child, but the case has entered the civil process. 3:14:31 PM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON referred to the language of Section 3(c) on page 2, line 2, which says "the parent's legal duty to support the infant is extinguished after 28 days". He asked if the aforementioned language removes the requirement for any legal duty to support an infant after 28 days, if the parent "brings somebody in". MS. SANDOVAL opined that it's inconsistent to allow a parent to safely surrender his/her child at 3 days, but not extinguish the parent's financial care and support until after 28 days. She requested further clarity of Representative Seaton's example. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON clarified his example by specifying that it's a father who doesn't want a child and doesn't want to pay child support and who safely surrenders the child within three days. He asked if after 28 days, the father's legal duty to support the child is extinguished. MS. SANDOVAL said she believes that is what the legislation states. 3:16:45 PM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked if under current law the parents are absolved from any future financial support, if the department has to take custody of a child due to unsafe conditions. MS. SANDOVAL answered that the department attempts to recoup any care and support funds that it can when the department has custody of the child until the rights of the parent are legally terminated. Ms. Sandoval clarified that after the parent's legal rights are terminated, he/she no longer has to pay child support. 3:17:49 PM CHAIR WILSON posed a situation in which the mother surrenders the child and the unknowing father is found afterwards, and asked if the department could seek support from the father at that point. MS. SANDOVAL offered to obtain the technical answer for the committee. 3:18:21 PM CHAIR WILSON, referring to page 1, lines 10-11, inquired as to whether it would be illegal to surrender a child that is older than three days old. MS. SANDOVAL commented that the aforementioned is a good question. REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX interjected that the line has to be drawn somewhere. She recalled that originally the legislation allowed legal surrender of an infant are six months to a year. She informed the committee that the group being targeted are young, single women, often teenagers, who attempt to conceal the pregnancy and deliver in private. The desire was to provide another choice for the mother. 3:19:56 PM CHAIR WILSON related a personal story of a teen who concealed a pregnancy. 3:20:40 PM REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA inquired as to how often a child is left in a dumpster. MS. MARASIGAN, recalling her research, related that [in the year prior] to the 1999 enactment of the Baby Moses Laws in Texas, in a 10-month period there were about 13 abandoned babies found dead. She further recalled from her research that in the year 2001 in California 38 abandoned infants were found. In fact, this past year in Venezuela there was a highly publicized case in which a fisherman found and saved an infant in a plastic bag that was tossed into a lake by its mother. In 2001-2002, the federal government recommended [that states] track and follow up cases of abandonment, which led to a task force on the matter. 3:23:32 PM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX opined that the purpose of HB 322 is to be proactive rather than reactive. 3:23:48 PM MS. MARASIGAN, in response to Representative Seaton, explained that allowing the infant to be safely surrendered within the first three days of its life was chosen for the following reasons. In the 46 other states that have passed similar legislation, over 12 states chose to allow the safe surrender of an infant who is less than 3 days old. The remaining states range from a week to a year. Ms. Marasigan reminded the committee that this legislation addresses the infant that's in imminent danger. She informed the committee that in a study of women who committed infanticide, the majority of the research indicated the need to address the immediacy of the situation. Originally, the legislation allowed safe surrender of a child up to a year in age, but discussions with agency staff pointed out that timeframes longer than a few days are really abusive situations. CHAIR WILSON indicated her agreement that allowing safe surrender of a child up to age one isn't appropriate. 3:26:09 PM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO referred to page 9 of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) update on safe havens for abandoned infants dated October 21, 2003. Under the heading Father's Rights, the update says: "Critics contend that denying notification unfairly presumes that these fathers do not want to care for their children. Utah's legislation addresses this concern by requiring a search of the confidential registry for unmarried biological parents and requiring that notice be sent to each potential father identified in the registry." The aforementioned seems complicated and almost unworkable, but seems to illustrate the difficulty in including the father. REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX opined that such is the situation with any termination of parental rights. For example, the situation in which a mother living alone decides to place her child for adoption and says that she doesn't know who the father is could occur now. With regard to the registers, Representative LeDoux suggested that those could be the subject of legislation next year. 3:28:40 PM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON commented that he would like to change the legislation such that a parent can safely surrender a baby without fear of prosecution for an infant up to eight days old rather than three days old. 3:29:21 PM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER related her understanding that a parent can't relinquish his/her parental rights for a specified amount of time, which she understood to be about 48 hours. MS. SANDOVAL said that she isn't familiar with the aforementioned, but indicated that someone from the Department of Law should be able to answer. 3:30:09 PM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER referred to page 2, lines 18-21, and inquired as to what occurs if the parent, upon taking a child to the appropriate authorities, doesn't say that he/she wants to relinquish his/her parental rights or expresses the need for time and leaves. MS. MARASIGAN said that the reason it takes 28 days before the parent's legal duty to support the infant is extinguished is in order to sort out all the possibilities with regard to the [absent] parent and whether there is an understanding as to what it means to relinquish parental rights as well as other matters. The legislation focuses on the safety of the infant in the immediate future, she reminded the committee. As far as testing [and the specified timelines], Ms. Marasigan said that she would have to get back to the committee on that matter. 3:32:33 PM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON related his understanding of the legislation, which is that a parent who abandons his/her infant can be criminally prosecuted if the parent doesn't relinquish parental rights. MS. MARASIGAN clarified that a parent who surrenders his/her infant can do so without expressing whether he/she will return for the infant. The idea behind the legislation is to not prosecute the parent for abandonment when he/she leaves the infant [in the care of the individuals specified in the legislation]. She highlighted that the parent may or may not provide information, but if information is provided it may be utilized. 3:35:21 PM CHAIR WILSON determined that no one else wished to testify. 3:35:31 PM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER inquired as to how many infants are abandoned in Alaska; and of which, how many are abandoned within the first three to eight days. MS. MARASIGAN deferred to OCS. MS. SANDOVAL said that OCS doesn't know of any children that would come under HB 322 within the last three years. CHAIR WILSON noted that if the abandoned child isn't discovered, there would be no knowledge of the abandonment. 3:36:56 PM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON moved Amendment 1, as follows: Page 1, line 10; Delete "three" Insert "eight" Page 3, line 19; Delete "three" Insert "eight" There being no objection, Amendment 1 was adopted. 3:38:00 PM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER expressed that in certain circumstances HB 322 could be great, but she noted concern with regard to the secure and stable placement of a child when the father isn't identified earlier on in the process. She pointed out that the legislation doesn't include a mechanism for the aforementioned. 3:38:33 PM CHAIR WILSON inquired as to how long it takes to contact the second parent. MS. SANDOVAL answered that it depends upon how much information the division can garner on the [absent parent]. However, the division attempts to locate absent parents and relatives immediately upon the abandonment. The intent, as specified in HB 53, is for the division to place children with relatives. In further response to Chair Wilson, Ms. Sandoval said that the 28- day provision is confusing because she didn't know the technical [requirements] to obtain support for the child within the remaining 20 days. CHAIR WILSON posed a scenario in which a child is placed with his/her grandmother and no other individual is found, and asked what happens at that point. MS. SANDOVAL reiterated that she would have to obtain an answer for the committee. In such a situation, if the grandmother decides to become licensed or not, relatives have the option to become licensed. If the grandmother becomes licensed, the state pays her the foster care stipend. If the grandmother isn't licensed, then the grandmother would have the ability to support the child or apply for public assistance. Again, she expressed that she didn't know the behind-the-scenes process for recouping the funds to support these children. 3:41:58 PM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON opined that if someone follows the procedures, surrenders the child without abuse, it would seem that there would be no need for the 28-day [wait before support begins]. Therefore, he questioned whether the elimination of the 28-day period would satisfy the department's criteria. MS. SANDOVAL said that it would make it clearer for the department and its duties, although she didn't think the 28-day wait is a problem. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON inquired as to the sponsor's thoughts on eliminating the 28-day wait. REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX said that it would be appropriate. 3:44:14 PM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON moved Amendment 2, as follows: Page 2 line 3; Delete "after 28 days" There being no objection, Amendment 2 was adopted. CHAIR WILSON opined that she feels it's most appropriate that the parent's legal duties won't be extinguished until after a thorough investigation. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON commented that this sends a clearer message to a parent who is abandoning his/her child safely. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON moved to report Version 24-LS1110\F, Mischel, 4/19/06, as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHB 322(HES) was reported from the House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee.