During the regular session in 2008 the Nebraska legislature passed LB157 commonly known as Nebraska’s “safe haven” law. Safe haven laws are usually intended to provide parents with a safe way to surrender a newborn they feel they are unable to care for and thereby reduce the number of infants abandoned in peril. However, Nebraska’s law was written so broadly it allowed parents or guardians to leave children up to the age of eighteen at a Nebraska hospital without facing abandonment charges.
Under the law 36 children were surrendered to Nebraska hospitals in a 127 day period. None were newborns or infants and many were brought to Nebraska across state lines. A number of the children were dealing with mental health or behavioral issues. Nebraska’s law became the subject of intense national publicity and debate about its intent . It sparked increased public discussion about whether Nebraska, and other states, are providing adequate resources for parents of children with mental health or behavioral issues.
Feeling that the law was being abused, while acknowledging the challenges that many parents faced, Governor Dave Heineman called a special session of the legislature to include an age limit in Nebraska’s safe haven legislation. The result was LB1 which amended LB157 to apply only to infants up to thirty days old. It became effective on November 22, 2008.
These signs, one applicable to the original law and one updated to reflect the amended law, were designed by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and made available to Nebraska hospitals.
–Deb Arenz, Senior Museum Curator