July 2005        Vol. 1 No. 15
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MEDIA FRENZY IN ONTARIO
Ontario’s Bill 183 started out as a bill to issue original birth certificates to adopted adults. However, the bill contained a contact veto provision that carried a fine of $50,000 for any adoptee who violated the veto, thus turning adoptees into potential criminals.
Natalie Proctor Servant, Bastard Nation Executive Committee Member, testified in favor of an amendment to the bill which would use contact preference forms instead of contact vetoes.
Then, Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian took center stage. She boldly pronounced that she had personally received many desperate letters from adoptees and birth mothers begging her to preserve the privacy "promised" them long ago. Commissioner Cavoukian emotionally related one birth mother’s passionate pleas to keep records closed or else she (the birth mother) would commit suicide.
Ms. Cavoukian issued press release after press release, plugging away at all the family disasters that would occur if birth documents were released.
"Honor killings," an ancient tradition known to some third world cultures, were even offered as a possible reason not to release birth certificates.
Meanwhile the press was going crazy. Newspapers in Toronto, Ottawa, and London were all echoing Ms. Cavoukian’s fears and tears. In an effort to keep Bill 183 afloat, a last minute change was made calling for a government panel to be set up where birth mothers and adopted adults could plead their cases and ask for a disclosure veto. Each case would be decided on its own merits.
The media had a “hay day” with this plan too. Imagine, the pundits shouted, a suicidal birth parent having to go before a panel and beg for a disclosure veto. What would she say? What evidence would she need? How heartless had Ontario become?
In a last minute effort to keep the bill alive, some members called for a full disclosure veto for both adoptees and birth parents. Others went further - they wanted to include a “secondary disclosure veto,” as well, to keep family members from giving away information.
The bill is still being considered by the committee, and has been held over to the fall session. With all the amendments made and proposed so far, and with a cabinet shuffle imminent, the final shape and fate of this bill is very much up in the air.
DOUBLE TROUBLE IN TEXAS
TxCare gave us two stinkeroos this year, one bill still in committee and the other one passed into law.
TX HB 240: "The Haves" and the "Have-nots"
Texas passed HB 240 into law, creating a two-tier structure for adopted adults. In Texas, adoptees will now be divided into the "Haves" and the "Have-Nots." This bill actually allows adopted adults who know the names of their birth parents (the "Haves") to access their original birth certificates. Adopted adults who do not know the names of their birth parents (the "Have- Nots") are left out in the cold. Watch for the "Have-nots" to be playing “Wheel of Fortune” with vital statistics clerks next year.
TX HB 770: Those Elusive ANDs
TxCare was going to be ever so slick with HB 770. This bill was designed as a bill that would use the allegations of the opposition to create what would be a nonfunctional veto provision. That’s Texas talk for "put up or shut up."
The bill had a provision that original birth certificates would be given to adopted adults unless a birth parent could produce a previously filed contract (affidavit of non-disclosure) made by the state promising anonymity to the birth mother. TxCare reasoned that since no such written contracts ever really existed, none could be produced, and voila! TxCare would fool the legislators and adoptees would get their original birth certificates.
Did it happen?
Nope! The Texas lawmakers weren’t fooled at all! When HB 770 went to the Committee on Juvenile Justice & Family, they added a full-blown disclosure veto to the bill and then passed the bill as amended. The bill was then passed onto the Calendar, where thankfully, HB 770’s time ran out for this session.
THE "BEFORES" AND THE "AFTERS" IN INDIANA
Indiana passed HB 1217 into law, also dividing adoptees into two groups: those born before and those born after 1993. Incredibly, Indiana is still living way in the past - wondering how and who should get non-identifying information. Yet that seems to be the intent of this bill. It sets up two different procedures to handle the gathering, collecting, and issuing of the material to the "Befores" and the "Afters." This bill took just one short month to get unanimous approval from both Houses of the Legislature. And why 1993? Go figure.
BIZARRO TIME IN NEBRASKA
Nebraska has passed a bill that is so weird that if you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were watching a satire on Saturday Night Live. Nebraska apparently wants to help out our heirs but says to hell with us.
Let the actual text speak for itself:
Legislative Bill 61: An Act relating to adoption
"... an heir twenty -one years of age or older of an adopted person shall have access to all information on file at the Department of Health and Human Services, ... including information contained in the original birth certificate of the adopted person, if: (a)(i) the adopted person is deceased, (ii) both biological parents of the adopted person are deceased or, if only one biological parent is known, such parent is deceased, and (iii) each spouse of the biological parent or parents of the adopted person, if any, is deceased, if such spouse is not a biological parent; or (b) at least one hundred years has passed since the birth of the adopted person.
AND THAT’S NOT ALL!
Conditional open records legislation has also been introduced in Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Bills in these states are making their way through legislative committees.
A true open records bill is still alive in Rhode Island, and Massachusetts and Maine are preparing unconditional bills for their next sessions.
ADOPTEES "VIS A VIS" THE STATE By Anita Walker Field
The state has a "compelling interest" in the adoptee as a child. The process of adoption was created so that the state could find good homes for children who needed them. The state has the power to create permanent, legal family units for those children through its adoption procedures.
At the time adoption decrees are finalized, the state NOW has the power to: establish the childrens’ rights to inheritance from their adoptive families, sever all inheritance rights between the children and their biological parents, legalize name changes for the adopted children, issue amended birth certificates to adoptees, and impound and seal all court generated adoption records and original birth certificates.
What happens when the child of adoption reaches the age of majority?
At this point, the state’s job is done! It has fulfilled its legal duties to homeless infants through the integrity of its adoption process. It has maintained the permanancy of a family unit during the childrens’ formative years.
The state continues to uphold the adopted adult’s legal inheritance rights. Other than inheritance, though, the state has no other “compelling interest” in adoptees when they reach the age of majority.
Kind of makes you wonder why so many states and provinces want to retain their power over adopted adults forever?
THE GOAL-MILLION BIRTH PARENTS FOR OPEN RECORDS!
If you placed a child for adoption so that he/she could have a "better life" and you believe that better life does NOT include being denied the SAME RIGHTS as non-adopted citizens...then STAND UP and be counted! GO TO: http://survey.birthparentproject.org/
Adoption Information Decision Condemned
AdoptionIreland: The Adopted People's Association today condemned the High Court judgement which reversed the Information Commissioner's decision to release edited and non-identifying information to an adopted person about their origins, from over 40 years ago. They have also offered to act as mediators between the adopted person and natural mother.
NEW APPOINTMENT TO EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
The Executive Committee of Bastard Nation is pleased to announce the immediate appointment of Janet Allen to the position of Legislative Advisor to the Executive Committee. We believe that this position will enhance Bastard Nation and the open records movement through her legislative expertise and experience.
Where The Action Is
REPRESENTATIVE JANET ALLEN, New Hampshire
In the fall and winter of 2004, New Hampshire State Representative and Bastard National Janet Allen could be seen rushing from office to office in the state Capitol, educating the legislators about the open records bill, SB 335. This wasn’t an easy task because Representative Allen had to attend to her other legislative duties as well.
Janet spoke passionately on the House floor in favor of the bill. Many representatives told Janet that her fervor and her reasoning are what made them change their minds about unconditional records.
Since the bill’s passage, Janet has received requests for information on SB 335 from the media, from other Representatives and Senators, and from lawmakers in other states.
Janet was given the honor of being the first adoptee to request and receive her original birth certificate on January 3, 2005. Said Janet, "I knew at that moment that I had crossed an invisible line and that I was finally equal."
PAT MARLER, OKLAHOMA
Bastard National Pat Marler of Oklahoma and her group, OORAH, introduced a pure open records bill, HB 1631 this legislative session.
Members of OORAH began by making appearances in front of various organizations around the state to present adoptee rights as an issue. During the legislative session itself, Pat and other members of OORAH were walking the floors of the Capitol, lobbying for support of HB 1631.
From the get-go, Pat and OORAH had to find a way to deal with a section in the current Oklahoma law that allowed birth mothers to file affidavits of non-disclosure. In order to get a clean bill passed, Pat and OORAH would have to either get this section deleted from the current adoption code and then replaced with their bill, or figure out a way to get around it.
The sponsor of the Oklahoma bill began to waver and change strategies and the group felt the heat. It was not an easy time for Pat. How do you proceed when your sponsor turns lukewarm and talks of amendments? What do you do when you’re faced with the fact that you may no longer have consensus among your own supporters?
Pat persevered, continuing to look for answers. She stayed on, trying to move the bill along. HB 1631 was finally heard in the Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee where the vote was tied, 3 - 3. In Oklahoma law, when a tie occurs, the chairperson of the subcommittee is allowed to call in another representative. In this case, that representative voted against the bill.
"Next time," says Pat, " We have new ideas, and we are eager to put them to work. Between now and the next legislative session, we will be trying to get our name and our message out to the public. Whoever we get as a sponsor will know exactly what we want and agree to it wholeheartedly."
JEAN UHRICH, NEVADA
Jean Uhrich together with Nevada Open introduced an unconditional open records bill, SB 267, two years ago. This bill encountered numerous legislative delays and at the end of the 2003 session the committee decided to put it on hold for study. Since the Nevada legislature only meets every other year, that meant the bill couldn’t be considered again until the 2005 session.
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, whether the committee members hoped that the supporters of open records would sort of fade away in the interim?
But Jean and Nevada Open had no intention of fading away. During the off year, they worked diligently gathering additional research, educating lawmakers and the public and putting together support from partner groups, one of which was Bastard Nation.
When the 2005 legislative session opened, Jean and Nevada Open were right there with their bill - a bill that had not changed in substance in any way from the original. SB446 (same bill - new number) was assigned to the Nevada Senate Judiciary Committee. On April 13th, after hearing testimony, the senators declined to call for a vote - a procedure which had the affect of killing the bill.
No sooner had the open records bill failed when the opposition went to work and introduced two new bills, AB 50 and ACR 2, which would put restrictions upon an adopted adult’s right to unconditionally access his or her original birth records.
Jean and Nevada Open continued working, this time to kill these two bills. On June 7th, the Governor called a Special Session of the legislature. Both of these bills were NOT included on the docket.
"So," says Jean, "We are no worse off than when we began this campaign for open records. Our opposition stalled our efforts to open the records, but they were not successful in putting into place alternate legislation that would have blocked our future effort."
NEWS FROM OPEN RECORDS STATES
In Oregon, a total of 8,033 adult adoptees have received their original birth certificates since May, 2000, when the act went into effect. 29 birth mothers requested contact through an intermediary and 83 birth parents asked for no contact.
Alabama reports that approximately 3,000 adopted adults have received their original birth certificates since August, 2000.
In New Hampshire, 628 adult adoptees have received their original birth certificates since January 1st of this year. Only 46 contact preference forms have been filled out by birth parents. 32 birth parents said they wanted contact, three said they wanted contact through an intermediary and 11 said they did not want contact.
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Editors: Anita Walker Field and David C. Ansardi
c. 2005 Bastard Nation: The Adoptee Rights Organization
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