Deal signs Georgia adoption overhaul

State Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, House Speaker David Ralston and other lawmakers watch as Gov. Nathan Deal signs into law the adoption bill Reeves authored. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

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State Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, House Speaker David Ralston and other lawmakers watch as Gov. Nathan Deal signs into law the adoption bill Reeves authored. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday signed into law a bill to make it easier for families to adopt children in Georgia.

The measure — a priority for Georgia lawmakers this year — makes far-reaching changes to the state's adoption process.

Georgia's adoption laws were so burdensome that many parents traveled to neighboring states to find children.

"The bottom line is that it's going to speed up the process for adopting in Georgia," Deal said after signing the legislation, House Bill 159. "For far too long, we have been behind the national average in terms of the time it takes to finalize an adoption."

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Surrounded by dozens of state legislators as he signed the bill, Deal said it’s a “significant step forward” for the state.

The legislation reduces adoption waiting times, legalizes reimbursing birth mothers for their expenses in private adoptions, bans middlemen who profit from arranging adoptions and simplifies out-of-state adoptions.

The adoption measure became the source of a major fight at the Georgia Capitol last year over a provision that would have allowed religious adoption agencies to reject gay couples seeking to adopt foster children.

The bill only advanced this year after senators agreed to remove the religious language. The Senate voted last month to pass separate legislationSenate Bill 375, that would ensure taxpayer-funded adoption agencies can turn away same-sex parents. That bill is now pending in the House.

But the broader adoption overhaul is now complete.

“With the signing of this bill into law, we are giving children, including the 13,500 children in foster care, renewed hope for a forever family,” Deal said.

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Bert Reeves, said that after working to pass the adoption bill, he and his wife are considering adopting or fostering a child.

“Families across our entire state will enjoy a more efficient and dependable process of adoption,” said Reeves, a Marietta Republican. “This will reverse the unfortunate trend that we have seen: adoptive parents going to other states to adopt.”

Georgia’s adoption laws hadn’t been updated since 1990, before the advent of the internet and broader acceptance of adoptions nationwide.

Deal was a state senator at the time, and he sponsored that legislation 28 years ago.

"Nothing we do this session will be as important as moving our most vulnerable children from foster care to a home," said House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

The adoption bill was the second major bill signed by Deal so far this year.

He also signed legislation, House Bill 918, to lower state income tax rates Friday.

Adoption changes in Georgia

  • Shorten 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.
  • Allow birth mothers to seek reimbursement from adoptive parents for basic living expenses in both private and agency-run adoptions.
  • Ban advertisements and adoption payments from "facilitators," who are middlemen that arrange adoptions.
  • Permit adoptions at age 21 instead of age 25 for relatives to adopt someone in their family, as in the case when both of a child's parents die.
  • 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.
  • Allow power of attorney over a child to be transferred to another parent in some circumstances, such as when a biological parent is called to active military duty or has problems with drugs.

Source: House Bill 159

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