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Adoption code overhaul passes state Senate, likely to be signed by governor
02062018 adoption 1
State Rep. Bert Reeves, left, R-Marietta, sponsor of HB 159, the adoption bill, and house speaker David Ralston, react to the passage of the bill during a press conference after the Senate vote Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to soon sign into law a sweeping revamp to the state’s adoption code after the Georgia Senate gave its final OK to the bill on Monday.

After the bill passed the House of Representatives last Thursday, Deal said on Twitter that the sooner the bill was passed by the Senate, the sooner he would sign it.

“I applaud the House and Senate for working together to overwhelmingly pass these comprehensive revisions to the adoption code,” Deal said in a statement Monday. “This compromise modernizes and streamlines Georgia's adoption system to meet the needs and challenges of the 21st century. These reforms will bring us in line with other states nationally while uniting children and parents in loving, permanent homes.”

The push to streamline adoptions in the state failed last year when an amendment that critics called anti-LGBT was added.

That amendment that would have allowed private adoption agencies that receive taxpayer funding to exclude same-sex couples on religious grounds has been removed from the bill.

State Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, said he would like to see the religious exemption added back at some point, but was willing to compromise for now.

“These children have nothing to say when they’re born … there is also an opportunity to bring something back later,” he added.

State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, told The Times last week that the bill needed to pass this year.

“I voted for the original bill, which provided the children of Georgia a better life through an opportunity for adoption,” he added.

One major change would reduce the length of time a birth mother has to change her mind and take back custody of a baby from 10 days to four.

Another would make it possible for adoptive parents to help a birth mother with certain living expenses in private adoptions, something currently prohibited by Georgia law.

“Remove the politics, this is about children and welfare and giving working-class families access to adoption processes that aren’t cost-prohibitive,” state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, told The Times about why he supports the legislation.

“No, it’s not perfect,” he added, “but a big step forward.”

An additional amendment, which Deal vetoed in a separate bill last year, now appears in the adoption legislation.

Initially, it would have allowed individuals or nonprofit agencies to obtain power of attorney over a child without state oversight.

But critics, including Deal, said this was a slippery slope that could result in a needy child being passed from one bad living environment to another with no opportunity for an independent, government agency to step in.

But Deal and the adoption bill’s lead legislative proponents hashed out a compromise that includes strengthening the background check for those receiving temporary custody of children; requiring agencies that broker the agreements to register with a state Department of Human Services database; recording power of attorney agreements in local probate courts, including notifying the appropriate court if the parent(s) move; eliminating affirmative defense for parents who transfer custody of their children, which means parents could still be held liable if their child is harmed in the custody of another.

The lengthy bill seeks to make numerous technical changes to the state’s decades-old adoption code, which was last updated before the widespread use of the internet.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.