Opinion: Senators off-base with adoption-bill objections

I never like to start an argument by assuming bad intentions on someone else’s part. So I take state senators at their word when they say they worry allowing more adoptive parents to cover certain living expenses for birth mothers will drive up the cost of adoptions.

I just think they’re wrong.

The bill that has loomed over this session so far — and was destined to do so since legislators gaveled out and left town last year without resolving the issue — re-emerged Thursday. I’m talking about House Bill 159, which would update Georgia’s adoption laws.

A brief recap since last March: The House was royally ticked HB 159 didn’t make it across the finish line in the Senate last year. Speaker David Ralston insisted his chamber wouldn’t be inclined to take up many other bills until senators rectified the situation. The Senate’s idea of rectification was tacking on a separate bill Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed last spring, and making substantial changes to two elements of the adoption bill itself.

On Thursday, the House responded. The chamber tweaked the language of the previously vetoed bill, which concerned temporary, private foster-care arrangements made via power of attorney, with Deal’s blessing. And it basically moved to the Senate’s position on one other item, which concerns how long a birth mother has to change her mind after surrendering her parental rights to the child she’s given up for adoption.

That leaves the question of allowing living expenses such as rent, groceries or maternity clothes. That’s already allowed for adoptions arranged by agencies, just not in so-called private adoptions handled by an attorney.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, said he’s just trying to level the playing field between the two types of adoptions. This is important because agency adoptions are generally more expensive, often by tens of thousands of dollars. If a birth mother experiences complications during her pregnancy, such as needing bed rest that prevents her from working, adoptive parents working through an attorney have no choice today but to convert to a higher-cost agency adoption if they want to help.

You would think, then, that allowing more parents to stick with the less expensive, private route if possible would help more people keep their adoption expenses down. But some state senators, led by David Shafer, R-Duluth, say the reverse is true.

They argue that merely allowing for living expenses will create an expectation of such payments among all birth mothers, not just those who truly need them. And that, in turn, will make private adoptions more expensive.

That would be more likely if there weren’t a check in place: In agency adoptions, any living expenses must be approved by a judge for both rationale and amount. HB 159 places the same safeguard on private adoptions.

More to the point, allowing living expenses for some birth mothers in agency adoptions hasn’t led to an expectation of payments by all of them. It’s unclear why that would suddenly be the case for private adoptions, especially when the cost of adopting is the main obstacle for many couples and should keep downward pressure on expenses.

But back to intentions. Shafer tells a moving story about his own experience, having been adopted when he was 11 days old. One may give him the benefit of the doubt that he genuinely cares about the welfare of similarly situated children.

It’s just hard to believe his fears will come true.

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