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Michigan Senate approves 'baby box' plan for surrendered newborns

An infant rests inside a “baby box” installed in Indiana in a photo posted to the Safe Haven Baby Boxes Facebook page in November. Michigan lawmakers are considering bills that would allow mothers to surrender their children inside baby boxes installed at hospital, fire stations and police department.

Lansing — Michigan hospitals and police and fire departments would be allowed to install “baby boxes,” where a parent could safely surrender a newborn under legislation approved late Tuesday by the state Senate.

The “newborn safety device” would lock from the outside after an infant is placed inside, trigger a call to 911 within 30 seconds and include visible instructions about its use.

The Senate approved the main bill in a 30-8 vote after adopting an amendment to hold a manufacturer liable for any injury to a baby, including death, that results from use of the device. The measure now heads back to the House, which previously approved an earlier version.

The legislation expands on a 2000 law that allows parents to anonymously surrender a newborn to an emergency services provider within 72 hours of a child’s birth without being accused of abandonment. The child later is put up for adoption.

More than 200 newborns have been surrendered in Michigan through the state’s safe delivery program since 2001, primarily at hospitals at the time of birth, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The legislation would expand the time frame in which a mother could surrender an infant to within 30 days of birth and require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop safety guidelines for the baby boxes.

Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania already have provisions for the devices, said sponsoring Rep. Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian, earlier this year in a committee hearing on the legislation, noting installation of the boxes would be optional.

“This legislation takes the necessary steps to ensure that no mother feels that she has to abandon her child illegally,” Kahle said in May.

Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, has told lawmakers that boxes the group installed in Indiana include a bassinet inside the box, heating and cooling features, and health information for the mother.

Kelsey, a firefighter and paramedic who herself was abandoned as an infant, said the boxes include two alarms that call 911 when it is opened and closed with a child inside.

Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, opposed the legislation Tuesday, saying that as a volunteer firefighter, he could not imagine ending his day by “uncovering a baby out of a box.”

Hollier said he supports provisions that would increase the time limit for biological parents to surrender newborns and hopes lawmakers take more time to “make real safe harbors for parents who are unable to take care of their children.”

“But I’m deeply concerned that putting a baby in a box is the option.”