Well, looky here! Meow! Ever wonder what kind of person sponsors Safe Haven Baby Box bills?
Safe Haven Baby Box bigtime booster and former Republican Florida House member Joe Harding pled guilty earlier this week to two counts each of federal wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements related to obtaining $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funds for dormant businesses–reportedly lawn care/landscaping –he owned. His occupation on his official House webpage is listed as “Home Healthcare Executive.” Sentencing is on July 25. Harding’s former brother-in-law Patrick Parker Walsh is already serving time on similar charges, but it is unclear from the stories I read if they were connected in any serious way
Harding was in his second term in the House. and is remembered best as the author of HB 1557, Florida’s infamous Parental Rights in Education bill aka Don’t Say Gay bill. We at SSHBBN remember him fondly, however, as a big Safe Haven Baby Box booster.
We first ran into Mr. Harding two-and-a-half- years ago when he was a newly-elected member of the House but had not yet taken office. On December 15, 2020, about a little over two years to the day he would resign from the House, Harding spoke at the Baby Box Blessing in Ocala:
You know I was just thinking about this, as a father, about how low and hard, and tough of a time it would be to surrender a child. And to think of the shame and the guilt that would come with that and to be able to do that, and not have to look at someone feel the urge… to get to that point, the hurt, they have inside. We can’t even imagine it. So, this is just such a testimony to the city of Ocala, to the mayor, and council for being pro-life in the sense that we are actively advocating to save a life l. And I believe it’ll happen here. So I want to thank Senator Baxley for all the work he’s done for years to defend the life of the unborn and just defend the life of children. And then, also, my new colleague, Representative Beltran for his work that he’s done. He came up here today from Tampa to be here for this because ..if you’re not familiar with the legislation last year…Beltran was a sponsor in the Florida House. And he’s been a fighter for children. And he’s tenured already in the House, and he’s going to continue that. And we want to thank him for all the hard work, so let’s make sure to give him a hand…a round of applause for making the drive. (Source: Ocala, Florida Baby Box Blessing, December 15, 2020, recorded and transcribed by Marley Greiner; in the possession of SSHBN. See our Florida page for news stories and other information.)
After Harding took office he introduced HB122, which passed the House 108-11 but didn’t make it past Senate Rules. The similar Senate bill, SB133 sponsored by Senator Dennis Baxley, was gutted by the author for reasons we have not been able to discover, a betrayal that made SHBB Inc CEO Monica Kelsey and her lobbyist Cathie Humbarger (NE Indiana RTL (Fort Wayne)and Reprotection) mad as a sack of ferrets. Both bills were declared officially dead on April 30, 2021 when the Florida legislature adjourned for the year.
Shortly after the failure of HB133 to pass, Harding discussed the matter with Haley Brown of Florida Politics, promising a comeback in 2022 and describing rather pungently why Florida needed a baby box law:
Harding, who said he will be running the bill again next Session, said the baby box was never intended to be the primary way mothers should surrender an unwanted newborn, but the option is needed in the hot, humid Sunshine State. Since 2000, 62 infants are known to have been unsafely abandoned in Florida and 32 of those infants died, according to staff analysis of the bill.
“We’re a hot, humid state and if people are getting left in a Dumpster or a trash can, it’s horrific to talk about, but it’s a reality. And every one of those stories is different than the other,” Harding said.
No baby box bill was introduced in 2022, but it is probably safe to assume that if it weren’t for that federal grand jury matter Harding would have sponsored this years’ HB 899, which his friend Rep. Beltran and others are now navigating through the House for a probable win (unless the Senate beats them with its companion).
Now I’ll just circle back for a moment to fill you in on Mr Harding’s inappropriate financial dealings with the US government.
Mr. Harding was indicted after a joint investigation by the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of Inspector General, and the SBA Office of Inspector General. (whew!) His crime was making fraudulent applications for Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans, by utilizing the names of dormant businesses mentioned above as well as fraudulently creating bank statements for one of the dormant businesses, used as supporting documentation for one of the loan applications. There are not a lot of details on what he spent the money on but according to Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics, documents showed that he used some of the money to pay off a $10,000 credit card debt, transferred $10,000 to his personal checking, account and another $10,000 was paid to a third party business entity. Mr,. Hardings says he has paid back the money, so I suppose that will lower his sentence.
What?! He didn’t buy Safe Haven Baby Box or two or three!
Mr. Harding, of course, has God on his side. After his indictment, he issued a public statement which ended with Jeremiah 29:11-12.
11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you
I’ve been away for a while, but I’m home now and ready to write my tail off. Just before Christmas, I received a Fellowship to the William Burroughs School of Metaphysics and Kitty Karma Konversion in Lawrence, Kansas where I had intensive classes and seminars in cut-up and fold-in techniques. (I prefer cut-up seeing as I’m a cat.) I believe that cut-up technique will really help me to understand what the Safe Haven Baby Box Bunch is talking about since they sure as heck have no idea…In love and solidarity, Angelika, the Personal Assistant Cat.