Adoption battle ends in stalemate _lowres

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum, left, Andrea Carroll, who teaches family law at the LSU Law School, and state Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, testified Tuesday on a bill that would allow adoptees access to some information about their birth parents.

The battle over opening up birth certificates for adults adopted as children ended in a stalemate Tuesday at the State Capitol.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary A rejected legislation to ease access to family medical histories for adoptees.

The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Louisiana Family Forum praised an amended form of House Bill 1028 as continuing to protect birth parents’ confidentiality.

Critics said they liked the original version of the bill: Birth records would open up unless the birth parents contacted the state and objected.

“We just wanted to give adoptees what was rightfully theirs,” said Brenda Frisard with the Louisiana Adoption Support Alliance.

In the end, the committee decided to scrap the bill and keep the existing law intact. Family medical histories will remain a part of the sealed adoption record. Only courts can unlock the original birth certificates.

Adoption records are a huge topic this year, not just in Louisiana but across the nation. New Jersey is expected to give birth parents three years to purge their names from their offspring’s birth certificates before opening up previously sealed records. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy is mulling whether to sign legislation giving adults adopted as children after Sept. 30, 1983, access to their birth certificates.

In Louisiana, state Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, set off a firestorm by filing legislation that would give many adoptees a glimpse at their birth certificates. The birth mother would have to request “No Contact” by the start of 2015 to prevent the release of a relinquished child’s birth certificate.

Original birth certificates contain the birth parents’ names. Adopted children get a new birth certificate erasing that information.

After weathering opposition from the Catholic bishops and the Louisiana Family Forum, Schexnayder offered a sweeping amendment on the House floor. The bill now calls for the surrendering parent to give an updated family history every five years. The history is all an adoptee would get if the birth parent fails to register with a volunteer registry or opts against contact.

Andrea Carroll, who teaches family law at the LSU Law School and took part in a Louisiana Law Institute review of the adoption statutes, said Tuesday that the revised bill strikes a good balance. Adults adopted as children no longer would need to go to court in order to get their medical histories.

“It’s a true compromise. As with any compromise, no one’s really happy,” she said. “It’s a good compromise.”

Gene Mills, head of the Louisiana Family Forum, said the bill would honor a pledge of confidentiality that was made to many birth parents.

The family forum characterizes itself as a voice for the traditional family.

State Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, challenged the bill’s supporters to explain how adopted children don’t deserve a right to know their origins at some point. He said adoption groups promise confidentiality, not the state.

“I’m a Catholic. I have Christian values,” Martiny said. “I don’t believe these people don’t have any rights.”

Robert Tasman, associate director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, said supporters of the original bill indicated they just wanted access to a family medical history. He said they were being disingenuous or deceptive if they really wanted access to birth certificates.

Coming to the committee room table later in the debate, Frisard countered that adoptees have civil rights. She said they should be given access to noncertified copies of their birth certificates.

“This will set back Louisiana adoptees. It will give a lot of their rights away,” she said.

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