- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2008

OMAHA, Neb. | Another teenager has been dropped off at a hospital under the state’s much-criticized safe-haven law, which lawmakers say they will change to lower the age limit.

A 17-year-old boy was left at an Omaha hospital Wednesday night, a hospital spokesman said Thursday. If his case is confirmed, he would be the 24th child abandoned under the law.

When lawmakers tackle the issue at a special session on Nov. 14, they will find no national consensus on what the age limit should be.

Nebraska was the last state to enact a safe-haven law, a measure intended to prevent infanticide and the unsafe abandonment of newborns.

Since the law took effect in July, none of the children dropped off at hospitals were newborns and three of them were from out of state. The reason: Nebraska’s law provides safe haven for any “child.” It doesn’t set an age limit.

Some have taken the word “child” in the law to mean “minor,” which in Nebraska includes anyone under the age of 19. Others have adopted the common law definition, which includes those under age 14.

Speaker of the Legislature, state Sen. Mike Flood, a Republican, said he will introduce a bill establishing a 3-day-old age limit, but the Legislature could change that.

At least 15 states use a 3-day-old threshold, according to the National Safe Haven Alliance.

But the age limit is 14 days in Iowa, just across Nebraska’s line. And to the north in South Dakota, the limit is 60 days.

“They’re making it all up as they go along,” said Adam Pertman, executive director of a New York adoption institute and a frequent critic of safe-haven laws. “Where’s the research that indicates that this is the right length of time?”

The absence of any national standard for an age limit was one reason why Nebraska lawmakers decided to use the generic term “child” in their law.

“It does open a door to older children being left off,” state Sen. Gwen Howard, a Democrat, said during January’s debate on the legislation. “I don’t see that being a problem.”

Mrs. Howard said Wednesday she’d listen to arguments for and against changing the law before making a decision.

“We want to protect all children,” she said. “We can’t walk away from the problem that’s out there.”

Tim Jaccard, president of the National Safe Haven Alliance, said he hopes to bring all 50 states to an agreement on a standard age limit and possibly lobby for federal legislation.

“It’s kind of a strange thing,” said Jaccard, a police officer in Nassau County, N.Y. “If you were born in New York, you have five days. If you walk across the street [to Connecticut], you’ve got 30 days.”

Safe-haven laws vary widely by state.

A 3-day-old age limit is the most common, according to the alliance. The next most common limit is 30 days, which is used in 14 states. If Nebraska changes its law, the highest age limit would be in North Dakota, which accepts children up to one year old.

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