South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Among the legislation proposed this year was Murphy’s idea for ‘baby boxes’

Photo by Erin Achenbach
Newly elected state legislator Jim Murphy hugs his son, former Mehlville Board of Education member Jamey Murphy, at his victory party at Cafe Telegraph Tuesday night. Photo by Erin Achenbach.

Most of the bills considered by the Missouri Legislature in 2020 stalled due to the coronavirus outbreak, including legislation passed through a House committee that would create “baby boxes” as a place a parent could surrender a child 45 days or younger without being prosecuted.

The bill, filed by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Oakville, would place “newborn safety incubators,” a medical device used to maintain a proper environment for a newborn infant, within 50 feet of police stations, fire stations or medical facilities that are staffed at all hours. The incubators would allow relinquishing parents, defined by the legislation as the “biological parent or person acting on such parent’s behalf,” to leave babies 45 days and younger in an incubator with no legal consequences.

At the Tesson Ferry Township Republican Club Meeting March 12, Murphy said part of the inspiration for the bill came from legislation passed in 2016 in Indiana that established similar “baby boxes.”

“In Indiana they have Safe Haven boxes. They put them inside of firehouses and they’re temperature controlled and alarmed,” said Murphy. “They put it in, the baby, then close the door. The alarm goes off and lets the first responders know it’s there and they leave anonymously… Last year in Indiana… no babies turned up in dumpsters… It’s a pro-life bill.”

The legislation would amend the current Safe Place for Newborns Act of 2002 by adding an official baby box as an acceptable drop-off location where relinquishing parents can surrender an infant, in addition to current locations defined in the act such as firehouses, hospitals, maternity homes and law enforcement officers.

While there have been no reported cases of babies turning up in dumpsters in recent years in Missouri, Murphy said the bill gives mothers an additional option.

“Across the country it happens quite often. And beyond that, you don’t know how many babies that are buried or destroyed,” Murphy said. “It’s another option for a mother who’s going through a tough time.”

However, groups like Baby Safe Haven New England and National Safe Haven Alliance believe that baby boxes actually endanger the lives of newborns and mothers, who may need medical treatment after birth. They believe the mother’s physical health can be evaluated when a baby is surrendered to a person such as a law enforcement official or firefighter rather than a baby box.

“It sounds great and innocent but these baby boxes are literally converted pig feed troughs,” said Mike Morrissey with Baby Safe Haven New England. “He’s not a Republican if he’s pushing this thing forward.”

The bill received bipartisan support from legislators such as Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, who is the ranking minority member of the Children and Families Committee, where the bill was voted “Do Pass” after a public hearing in February.

The bill was then referred to the Administrative Oversight Committee, where it was also reported as “Do Pass” March 11.

In a vote of the Rules Committee April 27, the bill passed 9-1, with Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, opposed. One of the votes in favor came from Rep. David Gregory, R-Sunset Hills.

Murphy said he thinks baby boxes will come to Missouri in 2021.

“This will get done next year,” he said. “I had a lot of support for this.”

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