Thursday, October 9, 2008

Consequences of Bad Legislation

Nebraska parents just got a free ticket to unload their baggage and start off anew.

Between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Wednesday, three fathers walked into two hospitals in Omaha and abandoned their children. One left nine siblings, ages 1 to 17.

The men, unless proven to have abused the kids, won't face prosecution under a new Nebraska law that is unique in the nation. The law allows parents to leave a child at a licensed hospital without explaining why.

Other parents have also used the law to leave their children. Last week, a 13-year-old girl was left. The week before that, two boys ages 11 and 15. In all, fathers, mothers and caregivers in six families — some single parents — have bailed on 14 kids, including seven teens, since the law took effect in July.
Legislators should have seen this coming.

Since starting work here at the Hawaii Legislature less than a year ago, I've learned how important it is to have clear and precise language on any legislative measure. Nebraska's two-month old safe haven law is a prime example of what can go wrong by hurriedly changing the premise and language of a good bill in order to get enough support for passage. Lawmakers changed the original safe haven bill by replacing "newborn" with "child". Unlike Hawaii's safe haven law enacted last year, the Nebraska law does not specify age limitations. In Hawaii, only newborns conceived within 72 hours can be dropped off at any of the listed save haven locations. Nebraska was the last state to implement a safe haven law and the only state to extend the law to all minors 19 and under.

Officials are even worried that out-of-state parents will cross borders to abandon their children at Nebraska hospitals, and they should be. Although unintended, they've created a "Humane Society" for unwanted children. The worst part of this whole ordeal isn't the selfish acts of parents. The worst part is thinking about the shock and trauma these kids must be going through and the fact that none of these parents can be prosecuted for their actions, unless abuse is proven, because the law protects them.

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