Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, (left) and House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: Adoption bill fight is now about living expenses for birth mothers

When last we left the Georgia Legislature, the Senate had just adjourned rather than immediately accept a governor-approved compromise on House Bill 159, the measure to rewrite state adoption laws.

As posted this weekend, Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle appeared to have come to agreement over a Senate initiative to give sanction to a church-based, private foster care system that would allow parents to hand off custody of their children for up to a year at a time.

But also posted this weekend was a column by Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, and Mike Griffin, the lobbyist for Georgia Baptists at the state Capitol.

They want the Senate to hold fast on its refusal to allow living expenses to be paid to birth mothers in adoptions arranged by private attorneys. Such payments are allowed for adoptions conducted by private agencies. In their Christian Index article, the Baptist leaders quote Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens:

“(L)iving expenses for a birth mother in the adoption process can be paid only by a state-regulated adoption agency. There is a requirement that the agency submit a financial disclosure with the court listing all expenditures paid to or on behalf of the mother.

“These expenses must be approved by the judge handling the adoption to assure that they do not constitute an illegal inducement. Likewise, the adoption agencies are audited yearly to ensure the expenses are necessary and reasonable.”

But supporters backing HB 159 point us to the section of the bill that lists the expenses that must receive judicial approval in every adoption that would be handled by a private attorney:

-- The birth of the minor child;

-- Placement of the minor child with the petitioner;

-- Counseling services or legal services for a legal mother;

-- Reasonable expenses for the biological mother…

-- Medical or hospital care received by the biological mother or by the minor child…during the such mother's prenatal care and confinement; and

- Services relating to the adoption or to the placement of the minor child for ….adoption which were received by or on behalf of the petitioner, either natural biological parent of the minor child, or any other person individual.

In case of violations, the judge would be required to turn the case over to the local district attorney. None of that language applies to agency adoptions, supporters of HB 159 tell us.

If all this sounds into-the-weedish, it is. But it’s also one of the two big changes the measure now contains. The first we’ve already mentioned – the establishment of a private foster care system with limited government oversight.

The second involves the competition between agencies and private attorneys for the attention of parents interested in adoption.

For decades, agency adoptions have been the rule in Georgia. The increase in private adoptions, conducted through an attorney, are one of the big changes in the field since adoption regulation received its last overhaul in the 1990s.

Generally speaking, private adoptions are cheaper – and can be quicker. The worry expressed by some Senate Republicans is that, if private attorneys are allowed to offer living expenses to birth mothers, a kind of bidding war for babies would erupt in Georgia.

Here’s the most interesting paragraph in that Christian Index article – a reference to last year’s attempt to give legal protections to child placement agencies that don’t work with same-sex couples:

There are also concerns that the House, while it has been unwilling to adopt protections for faith based adoption agencies, is ‎now enacting provisions that allow attorneys to “compete” against them.

When it comes to living expenses for the birth mother, the most common example cited is a difficult pregnancy that requires bed rest. Currently under Georgia law, a private attorney attempting to facilitate an adoption would be required to invite an adoption agency to serve as middle-man for such payments.

So there is a revenue stream at stake for adoption agencies, although no one in the Capitol is saying how much cash may be involved on a yearly basis.

Should HB 159 make it to the Senate floor, chances of passage are good. The question is whether it will be subject to the “Hastert rule” – requiring approval by a majority of Senate Republican caucus before it’s allowed to proceed.

Our AJC colleague Mark Niesse has more on the topic here.

***

A House committee today will take up a 200-year-old dispute over Georgia’s border with Tennessee. Georgia officials have long maintained that the state rightfully owns 68 squares miles that were misallocated by an alleged surveying error in 1818. House Resolution 943, the work of state Rep. Marc Morris, R-Cumming, says Georgia’s northern border with Tennessee and North Carolina should rest along the 35th parallel. The resolution will be considered by the House Interstate Cooperation Committee at 2 p.m.

***

Late Friday, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican candidate for governor, placed himself squarely on the side of U.S. Sen. David Perdue when it comes to immigration reform.

Suffice it to say the word “Dreamers” did not appear in the op-ed piece he offered up to Georgia newspapers. It began with these paragraphs:

Thanks to President Obama, nearly a million of these illegal immigrants – some criminals – now have temporary amnesty.

In states like California, where local officials refuse to comply with immigration officers, lawlessness abounds. The murder of Kate Steinle by a criminal illegal immigrant who should have been deported is tragic. Unfortunately, this occurrence is not isolated event.

In Washington, President Trump continues to advocate for building a border wall that ensures the safety and security of the American people. But Democrats – who wholeheartedly support open borders – continue to derail his efforts.

In Congress, Georgia’s U.S. Senator, David Perdue, is fighting to fix our country’s legal immigration system through the RAISE ACT. This legislation changes the way we bring people into the country using a merit-based system to ensure that only the best and brightest are given the opportunity to come to America…. 

***

Want to see a teen-aged Stacey Abrams? Her campaign tweeted a video of her speaking at the 1993 March on Washington. “I come to you as a young person, as a young woman, as a young black woman, to ask you that you use us: Use the young people of the United States of America to pave a road that will last forever.”

***

Politicians, beware. Your “favorites” can also come back to haunt you. Last week, state Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, clicked “like” on a Tweet that attacked state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, over his proposed constitutional amendment to make English the official language of Georgia. (It already is that by statute.) The Tweet in question was rather person: 

“He needs to focus losing weight. Heart attack. Oh good. Don’t lose weight. Hate him.”

Nguyen didn’t respond to a text message seeking comment, but she has since “un-liked” the message. 

***

Reuters has this bit of important, Atlanta-oriented news:

Mick Mulvaney, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has pulled back from a full-scale probe of how Equifax Inc failed to protect the personal data of millions of consumers, according to people familiar with the matter. 

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X