Palin signs safe surrender bill

Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A controversial bill allowing a parent to safely surrender a newborn infant instead of possibly abandoning the child was signed into law Monday.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Alaska Legislature, with strong support from Democrats and Republicans.

Bill sponsor Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Kodiak, said the bill managed to win backing from Planned Parenthood, the Anchorage Baptist Temple and the Alaska Conference of Bishops.

"You don't often see that in a bill," she said.

The controversy arose last year, when LeDoux went public with a claim that Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, had held up her bill to pressure her to support former Gov. Frank Murkowski's Petroleum Profits Tax in 2006.

At a bill signing ceremony at the Capitol Monday, Gov. Sarah Palin said Alaska was the 49th state to pass safe surrender legislation, and nearly became the last.

Palin invited LeDoux to explain what had held up the bill.

LeDoux, now running for U.S. Congress against Rep. Don Young in the Republican primary, fingered Cowdery, then the powerful chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, as the person who had stopped the bills two years in a row because of her stand on oil taxes.

"Sen. Cowdery called me on the phone and told me that," she said.

Cowdery spokesman Jeff Turner said Cowdery denied that when LeDoux first made the allegation.

"He said it didn't happen," Turner said.

As chairman of the Rules Committee, Cowdery had the power to decide what legislation reached the floor of the Senate and had the ability to stop a bill which had twice passed the House of Representatives easily.

Cowdery no longer serves as chairman of the Rules Committee and cited ongoing health issues in giving up the position.

Last fall executives with VECO Corp., formerly the state's largest oil field contracting firm, identified Cowdery as among the legislators they'd bribed. Cowdery has not faced criminal charges and has publicly maintained his innocence.

Two VECO executives have pleaded guilty to felony corruption charges, admitting they'd bribed Alaska legislators in an effort to lower oil taxes.

Palin said the bill, which takes effect May 11, will allow a parent to safely surrender a newborn without threat of prosecution, as long as there is no evidence the child has been physically injured.

Without penalty, they can leave them in the custody of a peace officer, physician or hospital employee, fire station or emergency medical service, the new law says.

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