Nebraska's safe-haven law works -- too well

When Nebraska passed a law that allowed panicked mothers to abandon their babies at hospitals with immunity from prosecution, many hailed it as a breakthrough in helping to keep unwanted infants alive.  Now it looks more like a poster child for bad legislation.  Thanks to a lack of specificity in the law, parents have begun dumping troublesome teenagers at hospitals, and crossing state lines to do it (via Q&O):

Frustrated parents are dumping their teenagers at Nebraska hospitals — even crossing state lines to do it — and the state Legislature has scheduled a special hearing to try to stem the tide.

Nebraska’s “safe haven” law, intended to allow parents to anonymously hand over an infant to a hospital without being prosecuted, isn’t working out as planned.

Of the 17 children relinquished since the law took effect in July, only four are younger than 10 — and all four are among the nine siblings abandoned by a man September 24 at an Omaha hospital.

On Tuesday, a 14-year-old girl from Council Bluffs, Iowa, was abandoned at Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, just across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs. The case marks the first time a parent has crossed state lines to abandon a teenager in Nebraska, authorities said.

All 50 states now have safe-haven laws, but only the Nebraska legislature didn’t put an age limit on the mechanism.  Now, the law intended to save infants has never been used for that purpose.  Instead, most of the children abandoned are troubled teenagers, and the state has a big problem on its hands.

Badly-written laws create far more mess than they solve, even when the underlying intent is admirable.  No one doubts the need to act to protect infants that had been previously tossed away by irrational mothers, but Nebraska botched its safe-haven law.  The ADA was another piece of legislation that started with good intentions but quickly got distorted into a trial-lawyer’s dream, as the definition of “disability” grew to include addiction and other conditions.  Many other examples exist.

Usually, it is better to avoid legislation that to use it to solve social problems.  Occasionally, as here, it often creates a slew of new problems.