‘Baby box’ legislation passes first House committee

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – House Bill 157, a bill to allow another option to safely surrender newborn babies, cleared its first hurdle Wednesday. The bill would allow baby boxes at safe haven sites across New Mexico.

In January, an 18-year-old mother was caught on surveillance video throwing her newborn son into a dumpster in Hobbs. Dumpster divers found the baby alive, six hours later.

"People in crisis need help. People in crisis need a place to go. And this is just one avenue and on way to do that," said state Rep. Kelly Fajardo.

The bill would provide $330,000 to install baby boxes at safe haven sites like fire stations and hospitals – and another $70,000 to help educate the public about them.

Baby boxes are secure devices where someone can safely leave a newborn baby. Monica Kelsey, the founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, says they already have 98 boxes in 6 states.

"We’ve had a total of 14 babies in our boxes. In Indiana they had 12 of those babies, Arkansas had 2 of those babies and we’ve had 115 women come through our program. Women need options. When you give them good options, they’ll choose an option that’s good for them," said Kelsey.

New Mexico already has a safe haven law on the books – but a person has to hand over the baby to a staff member on site. Supporters of this bill say baby boxes provide an anonymous option.

The bill passed its first committee by a 7-3 vote. Some lawmakers think the bill needs more work.

"I think the bill is very well-intentioned. I think this is something we should do. I just think we need to have a very solid bill to do it because if we don’t we will end up with additional problems and additional issues," said state Rep. Marian Matthews.

The bill now heads to its second House committee.

Española has found a way to do this under the current state law and is moving forward with plans to install the state’s first baby box in the city.

Track HB 157 during the legislative session.