30-Day Age Limit Proposed for Nebraska 'Safe Haven' Law

Nebraska lawmakers are proposing an age limit of 30 days for children who may be legally abandoned under the state's safe haven law.

The proposal, advanced Monday by a legislative committee, is designed to stop a rash of drop-offs of older children, including teens, at hospitals in the state.

It will be debated by the full Legislature on Tuesday.

Nebraska is the only state with a safe haven law that doesn't set an age limit.

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Approximately 120 people jammed into a Capitol hearing room Monday as legislators considered changing the open-ended safe haven law. Many said an age cap was secondary to what the law has illustrated: A ragged safety net for troubled children that needs to be mended soon.

"We're trying to decide which hole to put a finger in, meanwhile the whole dike's falling down around us," said Topher Hansen, president of the Nebraska Behavioral Health Coalition.

State officials disagreed with child welfare experts and others who criticized what they said was a lack of access to mental health and other services. They added that some parents are unnecessarily abandoning their children at hospitals.

Todd Landry, who oversees the state's children and family services, said there are resources available to parents.

"It is not the role of government to intervene in a family's life" when children are not in danger, Landry said.

Since September, 34 children have been dropped off. Five of them have been from out-of-state, leaving 29 in the state's care.

Lavennia Coover lashed out at suggestions she and other parents dropped their children off unnecessarily.

Coover told senators she dropped her 11-year-old son off in September after what she described as repeated and sometimes violent outbursts.

"I am tired of being labeled a bad parent by people in power who have no idea what my life is like in my home," Coover told the Legislature's Judiciary Committee. She said her son is bipolar.

Lawmakers are in a special session called by Gov. Dave Heineman, who had proposed allowing parents and guardians to drop off only infants no older than 3 days at hospitals without fear of prosecution for the abandonment.

The governor said Monday that he's flexible on an age limit and is willing to work with the Legislature.

All states have a safe haven law, and 13 states have a 30-day limit.