Thursday, April 16, 2009

Adoption Reform Clears Both Chambers of Legislature

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 16, 2009) – Both the Oklahoma House of Representatives and state Senate voted today to increase financial transparency during the adoption process and prevent crooked lawyers from extorting adoptive families.

One of the measures – House Bill 2174, by state Rep. Jason Nelson – passed the state Senate today and now goes to Gov. Henry to be signed into law.

The other bill – Senate Bill 1029, by state Sen. Steven Russell and Nelson – passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives today and returns to the Senate.

"I am very pleased this legislation has received such broad bipartisan support," said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. "For too long, Oklahoma has been known as a state that does not protect adoptive parents, adoptive children or birth mothers. We have allowed unethical lawyers to sell children and it’s a black eye for the state. This legislation will help end those abuses and identify the bad actors."

House Bill 2174 would require public reporting of adoption expenses to increase transparency. The bill also requires that only one prospective adoptive family at a time may be billed for a birth mother’s expenses and that all adoptions must be conducted in one of four locations: the home county of the birth mother, the home county of the adoptive parents, or in Oklahoma or Tulsa Counties.

Senate Bill 1029 would require the courts to conduct a home study for all non-kinship adoptions to ensure adoptive parents are able to support an adoptive child.

The measure also requires that a written full-disclosure statement be provided to both the birth parent and adoptive parents by all attorneys or individuals involved in a direct-placement adoption in Oklahoma. The full-disclosure statement would include information such as the name and address of the attorney involved; the scope of services provided by the attorney; a procedure for grievances; a list of the fees charged for an adoption and refund policy; provisions informing those involved that coercion of birth parents is prohibited; provisions for avoiding conflicts of interest among birth parents, adoptive parents, and the attorney; and the specified time frame for completing an adoption.

Although the Department of Human Services has a code that adoption agencies must follow, there is currently no oversight of the attorneys involved in adoptions.

A May 2006 multicounty grand jury report found that some adoptive parents have been forced to pay for automobiles, car parts, traffic tickets, court costs in unrelated criminal cases, driver’s license reinstatement fees, television sets and utility bills – all masked as adoption costs.
According to the grand jury report, the haphazard regulation of "adoption expenses" has created an atmosphere where some women and their attorneys effectively sold children.

House Bill 2174 passed the state Senate on a 44-2 vote today and will become law with the governor’s signature.

Senate Bill 1029 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives today on an 88-10 vote. It now returns to the Senate for consideration of House amendments.

The passage of both bills comes a day before a meeting of the Oklahoma Adoption Review Task Force, which Nelson now co-chairs with Russell. The group will meet at the state Capitol at 1 p.m. on Friday.
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