Dying to get out

September 11 Year of Turmoil

First & 10 2002

Our Town 2002

Abandoned baby bill signed
Missouri joins 35 states with similar laws.

Published Wednesday, July 3, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY (AP) - Parents could legally abandon their newborn babies and clergy would be required to report suspected child abuse under separate bills signed into law yesterday by Gov. Bob Holden.

The abandoned-baby law applies to cases in which babies younger than 30 days old are left with hospital or health care workers, law officers, firefighters or emergency medical technicians. The prosecution-free pass would not apply if the baby had been abused.

"Avoiding criminal consequences will provide incentive for parents who make an unfortunate choice to abandon their child to choose an option that preserves the life and safety of the child," Holden said.

The Missouri bill is modeled after a 1999 Texas law that was the nationís first statute providing amnesty to parents who abandon infants. A total of 36 states have similar laws.

Lawmakers have stressed that they are not encouraging parents to abandon babies. Rather, they viewed the bill as a positive option for people feeling trapped in a bad situation.

"Itís the most life-affirming issue we dealt with this year," said bill co-sponsor Sen. Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood.

Under the bill, children legally abandoned would be placed in the custody of the Division of Family Services.

A parent who abandons a baby would be presumed to have relinquished parental rights. A non-relinquishing parent would have 30 days to claim the child before a hearing is held to officially terminate parental rights.

The requirement for clergy to report suspected child abuse to authorities was passed after allegations of sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church, including several cases in Missouri.

Teachers, doctors and some others already are required to report suspicions of child abuse.

While the abuse scandal provided "a backdrop for discussions" on the bill, Holden said, "the issue is larger than that." Holden said the focus should be on protecting children from harm.

Rep. Michael Reid, R-Hazelwood, backed the clergy provision contained in a larger bill dealing with child and family protection.

"Iím a Roman Catholic, and I am very sad about what has happened in my denomination," Reid said. "I think this is important legislation to make sure these issues arenít covered over in the future."

Missouri is the 16th state to require clergy to report suspected child abuse.

A similar bill was passed in May by Illinois lawmakers and is pending before Gov. George Ryan.

Also signed into law yesterday was a measure increasing sentences for people who expose others to the virus that causes AIDS.

Under the bill, people who know they have HIV and have sex without telling their partners about the disease could face five to 15 years in prison.

If a sexual partner becomes infected with HIV, the punishment could be life in prison.

Current law contains a five-year prison term if people with HIV fail to tell their sexual partners about the disease. The new law also allows the court to test suspected sex offenders for HIV and tell alleged victims the results.

Other bills signed yesterday would:

● Allow school districts to give temporary administrator certificates to teachers who meet certain qualifications.

● Grant Missouri medical licenses to out-of-state physicians for up to two weeks in the event of a health emergency. The licenses could be re-issued every two weeks.

Holden has until July 14 to sign or veto legislation. So far, he has signed 111 of the 213 bills passed by the legislature.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.





Copyright © 2003 The Columbia Daily Tribune. All Rights Reserved.

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