Neb. lawmakers begin debating safe-haven age limit

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Nebraska lawmakers appeared Tuesday to be leaning toward tightening the state's safe-haven law by setting an age limit of either one month or one year for children who may be legally abandoned by parents or guardians.

All states have safe-haven laws, which are intended to prevent infanticide and unsafe abandonments. Nebraska is the only state that allows parental abandonment at any age without criminal prosecution.

As a result, desperate parents or guardians have dropped off 34 children at Nebraska hospitals since the law took effect this summer. Most were preteens and teenagers as old as 17.

Lawmakers on Tuesday were expected to take the first of what will be three votes on an age limit. The final measure will be sent to Gov. Dave Heineman for approval.

But some legislators say establishing an age limit for the law won't fix glaring holes in services for troubled youths. They argue the state's child welfare system makes it nearly impossible for families to get help for problem children who are often mentally disturbed.

"A human services system devoid of money and leadership ... over the course of many years and administrations brings us to this point," said Sen. Danielle Nantkes.

But state officials overseeing the state's child and family services system point to statistics they say show that help is not only available but has been provided to most of the families who have used the safe-haven law.

Most of the children got help under Medicaid, the vast majority have received mental health services in the past, and only one of the 29 kids from Nebraska has required intensive treatment since being dropped off, state officials say.

Nebraska was the final state to enact a safe-haven law.

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