Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle at the Eggs & Issues breakfast.
Photo: Bob Andres/AJC
Photo: Bob Andres/AJC

Senate nears ‘consensus’ on adoption measure without controversial provision

The Senate will soon consider a measure to update Georgia’s adoption laws without a controversial “religious liberty” provision, which could end a longstanding impasse between Republican leaders that has complicated this legislative session.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said that the Senate Judiciary Committee would vote Wednesday on an adoption bill without a section that would allow some private agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples. A final vote in the chamber, he said, could come as early as next week.

“There’s no question that the bill itself is going to be clean – in the context that it will be focused on child welfare and only child welfare,” said Cagle. 

The debate over the adoption overhaul is one of the thorniest fights in the Legislature, and it led to furious infighting in the final days of last year’s legislative session. 

Once an innocuous bill to update Georgia’s decades-old adoption laws to make it easier for foster parents to adopt children, the addition of the same-sex restrictions last year turned it into a legislative battleground. 

Both Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston demand a “clean” version of the adoption measure stripped of what they see as discriminatory language. And Deal’s frustration could have prompted the governor to veto on an unrelated foster-care measure backed by several Senate leaders.

Cagle said the Senate measure makes other changes, including one he said will address concerns “where you could create an opportunity where you could literally be selling babies for financial gain. Obviously, that has been taken out and severely restricted in the Senate version.”

He declined to discuss other specifics. So did Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller, who said he’s confident a “consensus” is in the works.

“The adoption bill is going to be fully vetted,” he said. “We’re going to be very deliberative and very successful with this bill. The alarmists can take a big breath. We’re going to get it done.”

Senate Republicans have been torn over the measure, with some influential conservatives privately urging that the same-sex marriage restrictions be cleaved into a separate bill.  

For Cagle, who is running for governor, the issue also carries political implications. One of his top rivals, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, has also called for a “clean” adoption bill, seeking to put the lieutenant governor in a tough position ahead of another fraught debate.

Deal and Ralston, meanwhile, have presented a united front over the legislation. 

The governor on Wednesday called on lawmakers again to “resolve it quickly” so he could sign the measure. And Ralston, who said he’s still waiting to see the final language, said he’s hopeful the Senate is making progress. 

“It’s very important for children. And it’s important for the good of this session,” said Ralston. “It was a bitter pill at the end of last year, and we’ve got to put that behind us. And I welcome any progress that they can make.”

He added: “We’re always open to talking. But we want a clean bill.”

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.