Georgia governor to unveil foster care overhaul

Gov. Brian Kemp will unveil an overhaul of Georgia’s adoption and foster care system on Thursday that will triple a tax incentive for some adoptive parents and reduce the minimum age for unmarried people to adopt children.

The Republican is set to unveil the legislation at his State of the State address, where he will cast the proposal as part of “incredible progress” in recent years to make it easier for families to adopt children.

“Our goal is simple: to keep our kids safe, to encourage adoption and to ensure that every young Georgian — no matter where they live — has the opportunity to live in a safe, happy, loving home,” Kemp said in prepared remarks.

The legislation would increase the tax credit for adoptions out of the state foster care system from $2,000 to $6,000 for the first five years. The incentive would then drop back down to $2,000 a year until the child turns 18.

The state estimates 1,145 foster children were eligible for adoption through the state Division of Family and Children Services in late 2019.

The measure would also reduce the age for an unmarried individual to adopt in Georgia from 25 to 21. Current state law only allows Georgians between the ages of 21 and 25 to adopt if they’re a relative of the child.

And it proposes a new commission that will be tasked with considering a “systematic reform” of the administration of the foster care system.

State lawmakers in 2018 made an initial round of far-reaching changes to the state’s adoption process, prompted by advocates who said the laws were so burdensome that many parents were forced to travel to neighboring states to find children.

That legislation reduced adoption waiting times, legalized the reimbursement of birth mothers for their expenses in private adoptions, banned middlemen who profit from arranging adoptions and simplified out-of-state adoptions.

It passed after 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 legislation was approved only after Republican state senators agreed to remove the controversial language.

Although it’s not a part of Kemp’s proposal, conservatives could try again to tack on a measure that would let some adoption agencies turn away same-sex parents. Kemp has said he’ll deal with that possibility “when the time comes.”

The governor has an important ally in his push for an overhaul. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who presides over the state Senate, told an audience of thousands at Wednesday’s annual Eggs & Issues breakfast that he also considers foster care changes a leading priority.

“It’s absolutely the right thing to do,” Duncan said. “Every one of us in Georgia is proud that Georgia is the No. 1 place in the nation to do business in. I want foster kids to say it’s the No. 1 place for foster kids, too.”