Late changes to Georgia adoption bill spur fears of discrimination

Legislation aimed at modernizing Georgia’s adoption laws was changed late Thursday in committee to include language protecting private agencies that receive state money but don’t want to place children with all families.

The move by the Senate Judiciary Committee would essentially protect agencies that may have a faith-based mission and do not want to place children with same-sex couples, although it could be applied broadly. Supporters on the committee said it could also apply to an agency with a mission to place children with African American families, for example.

“It’s just a matter of what options you can provide in the placement of children,” said state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick. “We should do all that we can to ensure those needs are met. It is recognizing the diversity in our culture.”

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The changes to House Bill 159 were done over the objections of its sponsor, state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, who said he had been notified of them less than two hours before Thursday’s hearing.

Bobby Cagle, director at the state’s Division of Family and Children Services, said the changes would likely endanger “hundreds of millions of dollars” the agency received from the federal government because they appeared to violate federal nondiscrimination laws.

Others on the panel said they feared it legalized discrimination. If an agency enters “into a contract with the government that is taxpayer-funded, they are bound to provide it in a nonsecular fashion,” said state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta. “It’s inappropriate for your tax dollars to discriminate against you.”

The committee’s 7-4 vote to approve the bill with the changes moves it on to the powerful Senate Rules Committee, which will decide whether to send the bill to the chamber floor for a vote.