Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Nebraska - No Questions Asked Orphan State

Simplistic solutions just add to problems

Haunted houses are nothing.

If you really want to frighten today's child, drag them kicking and screaming into Nebraska.

Thanks to that state's lawmakers Nebraska has become a kind of "Roach Motel," with children as the pests who check in but don't check out.

With every other state in the nation having so-called safe haven laws that give parents a legal loophole to abandon their newborns, Nebraska lawmakers decided in February to create a similar law. Except their law gives anybody within the state's borders free license to drop off any child.

If Johnny's too young to vote or smoke a cigarette, Johnny can be dropped off in Nebraska -- no questions asked.

The Nebraska law has helped draw attention to the previously unknown, but apparently quite expansive, network of actively negligent parents: those who will fill up the tank multiple times and drive across many states to rid themselves of their children.

A 14-year-old Iowa girl was driven to an Omaha hospital by her grandparents and left there. A 13-year-old Michigan boy was driven to that city by his mother, grandmother and aunt and left at a hospital. A Georgia woman dropped off her 12-year-old, and a 17-year-old boy from Lincoln, Neb., was left at a hospital by his mother and stepfather.

As of Thursday, 24 children had been legally abandoned in Nebraska. All but one were over the age of 6. There were no babies left at all.

Bad laws have consequences, and bumper sticker philosophies are no match for complex problems. But legislative bodies across the country -- including ours here in Louisiana -- have a bad habit of ignoring complexities and drafting simple-sounding bills that end up backfiring. This year, the Louisiana Legislature repealed a humane and progressive tax plan in response to some complaints that the "Stelly plan" was burdensome. Partly because of that repeal, state officials expect to have $1.3 billion less than necessary for the 2009-10 fiscal year, a shortfall that imperils the state's health care and higher education budgets.

We needed a thoughtful approach. Instead we got something that sounds good but threatens to do us harm.

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