Adoption compromise clears Georgia House but stalls in Senate

A major effort to make it easier to adopt children in Georgia fell short Thursday.

The Georgia House of Representatives voted unanimously, 168-0, on a compromise bill that sought to overhaul the state’s adoption laws.

But when the legislation then returned to the Senate, it didn't receive a vote. Some senators object to a part of the bill that would make it legal to reimburse birth mothers' basic living expenses in private adoptions, saying it could make them more expensive — or even result in the buying and selling of babies.

Now the adoption legislation is in limbo. The Senate could vote on the bill or try to further amend it.

The measure is designed to unify more adoptive parents with children. Georgia’s current adoption process is so cumbersome that some couples travel to other states to adopt.

House Speaker David Ralston said he's disappointed by the Senate's inaction on House Bill 159, one of his priorities for this year's legislative session.

“This is about doing something for Georgia’s most needy and vulnerable children. I don’t know why it’s so hard,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “You’ve got kids who are languishing in foster care with an adoption process that’s outdated. It’s cumbersome. It takes too long, and they’re being denied the opportunity to be adopted into stable, loving homes over political considerations.”

There are about 14,000 children in foster care in Georgia and roughly 3,000 total adoptions a year in the state.

The legislation would simplify the adoption process, allow repayment of birth mothers’ living expenses and shorten the time that a birth mother can call off an adoption after giving up her child, from 10 days to four days.

State Sen. David Shafer, who was adopted when he was a child, said repaying birth mothers for their expenses during pregnancy would drive up the costs of private adoptions. Expense reimbursements are already allowed when adoption agencies match parents with children. Agency-run adoptions can cost $30,000 or more, which is about three times more than private adoptions.

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

“I do have some concern that some of the provisions added back by the House will perhaps unintentionally raise the cost of adoption for working families,” said Shafer, R-Duluth. “It creates a whole range of payments that they are not required to make now in private adoptions.”

Every state bordering Georgia — and most nationally — permit expense reimbursements to birth mothers in private adoptions.

The compromise measure sought to resolve a major sticking point unrelated to adoptions that was inserted by the state Senate last month.

Senators had added language that Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed last year that would have allowed parents to transfer power of attorney for a child to an individual or nonprofit agency without state oversight for the child's safety.

Deal and senators negotiated an agreement that includes background checks and court registries designed to protect children when power of attorney is transferred. The power of attorney provision could be used to provide for children in cases where their parents are called away for military service or have problems with drugs.

"I applaud its unanimous passage in the House and look forward to swift action by the Senate," Deal wrote on Twitter. "The sooner this compromise is passed, the sooner I will sign it into law."

The adoption bill failed to pass last year after the Senate added “religious liberty” language that would have allowed faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

Senators dropped the religious liberty effort from the adoption bill last month, but state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, reintroduced it in separate legislation, Senate Bill 375, on Wednesday.

Supporters of the adoption bill said they had hoped the Senate would agree to the compromise measure.

"It's the biggest letdown since the Falcons blew the lead in the second half of the Super Bowl," said Rep. Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown.

Proposed adoption changes in Georgia

  • Reduces the time allowed for a birth mother to reverse her decision to give her child up for adoption, from 10 days to four days after signing adoption documents.
  • Permit adoptions at age 21 instead of age 25 for relatives to adopt someone in their family, as in the case where both of a child's parents die.
  • Ban advertisements and adoption payments from "facilitators," who are middlemen that arrange adoptions.
  • Allow out-of-state parents to finalize adoptions of Georgia children in state courts.
  • Reduce the age to participate in Georgia's reunion registry from 21 to 18.

Source: House Bill 159