Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation Tuesday allowing parents more time to give up their newborns without legal consequences, requiring screening for heart defects and dealing with reporting suspected child abuse or neglect.
Nixon held a bill signing ceremony at St. Louis Children’s Hospital for three bills. He said changes to child abuse reporting will help eliminate delays while additional screening for infants could help catch heart defects that can be treated with quick intervention.
Pointing to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the governor’s office said critical congenital heart disease accounts for nearly 30 percent of infant deaths due to birth defects.
“We want to make sure every child has every opportunity to grow up health and strong,” Nixon said.
The newly signed legislation will require starting in 2014 that all infants be screened for critical congenital heart disease. It is named Chloe’s Law after a girl born in 2008 with a rare congenital heart defect that the girl’s mother said was discovered nine hours after her birth by a pulse oximetry screening.
Another measure signed by Nixon gives parents up to 45 days instead of the current five days to leave their babies with medical professionals, firefighters, emergency medical technicians or law enforcement officers without repercussions. Parents also will be allowed to leave babies at pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes.
Nixon also signed legislation aimed at closing a loophole in child abuse reporting.
Existing Missouri law has required mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect to report or “cause a report to be made” to the Children’s Division. Supporters of the new legislation said state law has allowed mandatory reporters such as doctors, social workers and teachers to submit information to another person in his or her organization. The new law requires those people to make reports directly to the Children’s Division.
A state Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children had recommended the change in a report released this year. The task force said allowing mandated reporters to submit information to a “designated agent” in their organizations sometimes resulted in reports not being made.