LINCOLN, Neb. - Deciding he could wait no longer, Gov. Dave Heineman said Wednesday he will call a special legislative session to fix a safe-haven law that in just a few months has allowed parents to abandon nearly two dozen children as old as 17.
Heineman had planned to wait until the next regular legislative session convened in January but changed his mind as the number of children dropped off at hospitals grew. Two teenagers were abandoned Tuesday night alone, and three children dropped off previously did not even live in Nebraska.
"We've had five in the last eight days," Heineman said in explaining why he called a special session. "We all hoped this wouldn't happen."
The special session will begin Nov. 14. That's less than two months before the regular legislative session, but the governor and others see a need to act quickly.
"This law needs to be changed to reflect its original intent" to protect infants, Heineman said during a news conference Wednesday.
The law, which was signed by Heineman in February and took effect in July, prohibits parents from being prosecuted for leaving a child at a hospital. Nebraska was the last state to approve such a law.
Use of the word "child" was a compromise after legislators disagreed about what age limit to set, but that decision made Nebraska's safe-haven law the broadest in the nation by far. Most states have age limits ranging from 3 days to about a month.
As of Wednesday, 23 children had been left at Nebraska hospitals, including nine from one family and children from Iowa, Michigan and Georgia. Many are teenagers, only one is younger than 6 and none are babies.
Most Nebraska lawmakers have agreed upon revisions that would limit the law to newborns no older than 3 days.
Not everyone agrees, including the current law's main sponsor. Sen. Arnie Stuthman of Platte Center had wanted a 3-day age limit in his bill but opposes a rush to change the law.
"The big problem is we need to address what there seems to be a need for," Stuthman said. "It seems like people aren't able to get services for these older kids."
None of the children dropped off had been in immediate danger, said Todd Landry, director of the state's Children and Family Services division. The children brought in from Iowa, Georgia and Nebraska were returned or being returned to their home states.