Last year, the first rewrite of Georgia adoption law in 27 years passed the unanimously by the House, only to crash and burn in the Senate – when Republican social conservatives attempted to add a clause that would allow private child placement firms, even as they receive taxpayer funding, to refuse to do business with same-sex couples.
Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston have called for quick Senate passage of a “clean” version of HB 159. This morning, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said his chamber could meet that demand as early as next week.
The issue has split Republicans who have backed the “religious liberty” movement for the past several years. Below are some thoughts put together by Michael McNeely, a former cop and a former vice chairman of the Georgia GOP, who is now an assistant deputy commissioner in the state Department of Juvenile Justice.
McNeely has supported “religious liberty” legislation in the past. But below, he urges fellow Republicans avoid another stand-off.
By Michael McNeely
Every child deserves a stable and loving home, but far too many have never had that chance.
In 1972, at nine months old, a little baby boy found a permanent place to call home with his new father and mother. It was the result of their heart’s desire to provide love, support, and direction to someone who had no one else. There is nothing like the firm commitment of adoption and all that it means.
That little boy was me, and I thank God for the chance I had to grow up with a family that always made sure I had what I needed at every stage of my young life.
Today, there are over 13,000 children in state custody in Georgia. This number represents a 75 percent surge from 2013 to 2016, and is the largest increase in the nation. Georgia’s adoption law has not had a major update since 1990. Since that time Georgia has seen reform to criminal justice, ethics, and tort laws, yet in almost 30 years, our state has not revised the adoption code in any significant way.
During the 2017 session of the state Legislature, House Bill 159 was introduced by state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, which would have overhauled Georgia’s adoption laws, but it failed to pass. In the 2018 Session, our state has an opportunity to correct course.
Currently in Georgia, it takes about one year to terminate parental rights and finalize adoptions. This process is entirely too long and requires legislative action to ensure our state’s youth are not left behind. When perspective parents become frustrated over long delays due to an inefficient process, they are less likely to complete the adoption or they may consider adopting children from other states that are more welcoming and efficient.
An example of a source of this frustration can be found in the regulation that mandates a 10-day waiting period for finalizing adoption after paperwork has been signed to surrender parental rights. Under the proposed legislation, there would be an option for individuals over the age of 18 to waive the right to revoke the surrender of their parental rights which would allow the adoption to proceed upon signature. As a safeguard, this option would only be available to adults who have first consulted with independent legal counsel.
There are several other important considerations that HB 159 would address. For instance, providing an exemption to the requirement that petitioners must be 10 years older than the child to be adopted in cases involving a relative or stepparent, the elimination of the six-month residency requirement for adoptive parents to petition to adopt, and under certain circumstances, allowing for non-residents to be able to adopt Georgia-born youth.
Another vital update would be a provision requiring local boards of education to offer paid leave time to adoptive parents equal to that received by those who have had their own biological children. All of these provisions would have a very positive impact on the foster care system and allow for more successful adoptions.
The longer we wait to pass needed adoption legislation, the more children we will see who age-out of the system. Currently, 700 children in Georgia’s system leave each year without ever having the benefit of living in a loving and stable home. Those children are more likely to drop out of high school, become homeless, be unemployed, become parents too soon, and pass through the criminal justice system. We must reduce the likelihood of this potential downward turn or risk subjecting a generation of Georgia’s citizens to a less promising future.
Last year, HB 159 passed the House by a vote of 165 – 0, but stalled in the Senate. Fortunately, we will have another opportunity to see that Georgia’s adoption laws allow for better opportunities for our children. I ask our elected officials, “If not now, when and at what cost if we delay?” I support adoption reform in Georgia and implore our elected officials to do the same.
I would like to share one final thought regarding my personal experience with adoption. My wife and I completed the adult adoption of our god-daughter just a few years ago after being involved in her life since she was about eight years old. We have been able to share many lessons learned from our own lives and provide the same type of love and commitment we experienced growing up. Today, so many people talk about what young people need in their lives, but from my perspective, it all begins at home.
It’s time for Georgia to take care of its children. Future generations are depending on us.