Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 120
04/26/2006 01:00 PM JUDICIARY
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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HB 322 - SAFE SURRENDER OF BABIES 2:45:23 PM CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the final order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 322, "An Act relating to infants who are safely surrendered by a parent shortly after birth." [Before the committee was CSHB 322(HES).] The committee took an at-ease from 2:46 p.m. to 2:49 p.m. 2:49:46 PM REPRESENTATIVE GABRIELLE LeDOUX, Alaska State Legislature, speaking as one of prime sponsors of HB 322, relayed that a member of her staff would be presenting the bill. 2:50:31 PM CHRISTINE MARASIGAN, Staff to Representative Gabrielle LeDoux, Alaska State Legislature, relayed on behalf of Representative LeDoux, one of the prime sponsors of HB 322, that this bill has the potential to save the lives of infants, and that 46 other states have enacted similar legislation - with Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska, and Vermont being the only states that have yet to do so. The first such law was adopted in Texas in 1999 after 13 infants were found abandoned within a 10-month period, and now such laws are sometimes known either as "Baby Moses laws" or "safe haven laws". She then spoke briefly of the changes that were incorporated into CSHB 322(HES), and relayed that the intent of the bill is to deter women - typically young and unmarried women who are concealing their pregnancies and giving birth in private - from simply disposing of their newborn babies. Specifically, HB 322 would save an infant in imminent danger and enable a parent to avoid prosecution if she leaves an infant at a designated safe location. CHAIR McGUIRE, after ascertaining that no one wished to testify, closed public testimony on HB 322. REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON moved to report CSHB 322(HES) out of committee [with individual recommendations]. 2:52:43 PM REPRESENTATIVE LeDOUX drew attention to the fiscal note provided by the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), Office of Children's Services (OCS). CHAIR McGUIRE said she wants HB 322 to move from committee without that fiscal note. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG, speaking as one of the prime sponsors of HB 322, referred to the age limit of 8 days old - located on page 1, lines 10-11, and page 3, line 19 - and said that he would instead prefer to have an age limit of 31 days old. REPRESENTATIVE LeDOUX pointed out that HB 322 is geared towards young, single women who hide their pregnancy and deliver their baby in private with the intention of getting rid of it immediately; "we want that person to know that ... she doesn't have to leave [the baby] ... in a trash can somewhere" but can instead leave it at a safe location. She remarked that abandoning an infant who is 3 days old or 8 days old is different than abandoning a baby that is 31 days old because by the time a baby reaches the age of 31 days, then the mother "really has the baby" and hadn't immediately sought to get rid of it. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said he would prefer to err on the side of letting a woman leave a baby at a safe location even if the baby is a little older. REPRESENTATIVE LeDOUX said she want to try to ensure that infants get taken to a safe haven immediately, before there is the possibility that they will be abused or neglected. She then noted that a representative from the Office of Children's Services (OCS) has just relayed to her that the OCS would be amenable to a 30-day age limit. 2:56:03 PM JAN RUTHERDALE, Assistant Attorney General, Child Protection Section, Civil Division (Juneau), Department of Law (DOL), relayed that although the DOL doesn't have any legal problems with the concept of HB 322, she would like to work with the drafter on some structural issues. REPRESENTATIVE GARA suggested that the DOL bring any amendments pertaining to structural issues to the bill's first committee hearing in the Senate. 2:58:10 PM TAMMY SANDOVAL, Deputy Commissioner, Office of Children's Services (OCS), Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), mentioned that the OCS had merely suggested an age limit of 21 days as some sort of middle ground, since some states have a younger age limit and some states had an older age limit. She offered her belief that there haven't been any abandonment cases in Alaska to use as an example, and indicated that the OCS isn't committed to a particular age limit. CHAIR McGUIRE reiterated her intent to not have the DHSS's fiscal note move with the bill, because the public education campaign proposed in the fiscal note is an optional program rather than one being mandated by the bill. She suggested that with the DHSS's fiscal note, the bill would have to be heard in the House Finance Committee, thus lessening its chances of passing this year; therefore, she will be requesting that the motion to move the bill from committee specify that the bill would be moving forward without the DHSS's fiscal note. MS. SANDOVAL said she will look for ways to educate the community regarding this bill, but relayed her hope that not having the funds referenced in the fiscal note won't result in the OCS being held responsible for anything bad that happens to infants that are abandoned in unsafe locations. CHAIR McGUIRE, remarking on the complex nature of fiscal notes, reiterated her concern that attaching the aforementioned fiscal note will delay the bill to the point where it doesn't have time to pass. MS. SANDOVAL acknowledged that point. CHAIR McGUIRE suggested that perhaps an indeterminate fiscal note might be more appropriate. REPRESENTATIVE GARA again suggested that any amendments be offered in the Senate, including any proposed changes to the age limit because he is not comfortable just picking a number. MS. MARASIGAN, referring to an earlier comment, clarified that there have been infants found abandoned in Alaska, and noted that she now has several newspaper articles detailing such cases. CHAIR McGUIRE surmised that any media coverage of the bill passing will alert the public to some degree. 3:05:51 PM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG [made a motion to adopt Amendment 1], to change page 1, line 10, and page 3, line 19, from "eight days" to "21 days". REPRESENTATIVE GARA pointed out that the OCS was merely picking a number when it suggested an age limit of 21 days. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG opined that 8 days of age was not a sufficient age limit. REPRESENTATIVE LeDOUX acknowledged that at one point there had been discussion of perhaps having an age limit of 3 days but the House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee instead chose an age limit of 8 days. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG acknowledged that the original version of HB 322 had an age limit of 12 months, but again offered his belief that an age limit of 8 days is not sufficient. The committee took an at-ease from 3:08 p.m. to 3:09 p.m. REPRESENTATIVE GARA removed his objection to Amendment 1. CHAIR McGUIRE asked whether there were any further objections to Amendment 1. There being none, Amendment 1 was adopted. 3:09:43 PM REPRESENTATIVE KOTT made a motion that the committee authorize the chair to adopt a zero fiscal note from the DHSS. He surmised that [the OCS] ought to be able to do a lot of public education through public service announcements (PSAs) and posters in healthcare providers' offices. CHAIR McGUIRE, after ascertaining that there were no objections, announced that the motion to adopt a zero fiscal note was adopted. 3:11:14 PM REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON started to make a motion to report the bill, as amended, from committee. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG interrupted the motion to note that according to a chart in members' packets, some states' laws specify that either a parent or a parent's agent can surrender an infant. He asked the sponsor whether she would like to include similar language in HB 322. REPRESENTATIVE LeDOUX said no. REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON moved to report CSHB 322(HES), as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note as authorized by the House Judiciary Standing Committee. There being no objection, CSHB 322(JUD) was reported from the House Judiciary Standing Committee.