We are tracking state and federal legislation that could impact adoptee rights in the United States in the 2021 legislative sessions. Here’s a preview of where we are looking and what we are looking for in the coming year. All of this and more will be up for discussion in our upcoming Adoptee Rights Town Hall.
Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019
The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019 is a critical piece of legislation that closes a massive loophole in US immigration law, one that denies U.S. citizenship to thousands of intercountry adoptees who years ago were legally adopted by U.S. citizen parents. That loophole relates primarily to the age of the adoptee, denying automatic citizenship to those born prior to February 27, 1983. Most of those adoptees must either naturalize or find another path to gain U.S. citizenship. Critically, adoptees who have not secured citizenship already or have barriers to citizenship are subject to deportation to countries they have never known.
The ACA of 2019 is not expected to get through Congress this year as we approach the end of the 116th Congress. While it may see more action in the House, no one expects it to move in the Senate. Moreover, COVID-19, a transition to a new administration, and instability in the current White House will likely dominate any further Congressional priorities.
Kris Larsen, an intercountry adoptee and the director of Adoptees for Justice, will speak at the upcoming town hall about this year’s efforts as well as what we may see in the near future on this issue.
District of Columbia
While not technically federal legislation, D.C. is best to list it on the map under federal bills. Changing the law in D.C. on the issue of OBCs is a priority, and a bill has been drafted and shared with D.C. council members. Work will continue to determine if this coming session would work for pushing for introduction of an equal rights bill. The Council meets year-round and its thirteen district and at-large seats are all held by Democrats. With recent elections, the council will also become majority women in 2021.
The Capitol Coalition for Adoptee Rights is working on legislative efforts for D.C.
State OBC Legislation
Arizona was active in 2020 with unrestricted rights legislation that passed the House overwhelmingly but died in committee in the Senate, largely because a committee chair refused to consider the bill. That legislator has since retired, and the overall makeup of the Arizona legislature remains roughly the same after recent elections. While Democrats had hoped to flip one or both chambers, that ultimately did not happen. While Democrats flipped one seat in the Senate, Republicans still hold a 16-14 majority. It currently looks like each party will flip one seat in the House, where Republicans would maintain a 31-29 advantage.
California is long overdue for action on the issue of repealing the state’s restricted rights for adoptees. It has been at least ten years since any prior effort to change the law. Adoptees United will be working in the coming years to build a coalition to work on the issue, working toward legislation that will finally make California an unrestricted state. California adoptees and others interested in that work can sign up here for updates.
Connecticut saw the recent defeat of Republican incumbent Rep. Noreen Kokoruda. Rep. Kokoruda had strongly opposed a bill that sought to remove Connecticut’s discriminatory provision restricting OBC rights based on the date of adoption. The bill was set aside in 2019 after she spoke on the House floor in strong opposition. COVID-19 interfered with any progress on an identical bill reintroduced in 2020. With recent elections, Democrats in the House and the Senate flipped at least seven seats, with at least five seats netted in the House and two in the Senate. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.
Access Connecticut has led these legislative efforts so far. Subject to COVID-19 restrictions, I expect Access Connecticut will pursue legislation again in 2021.
Don’t expect legislation in Florida this coming session or, if legislation is introduced, it will no doubt include discriminatory provisions. While the legislature enacted a bill last session that marginally addressed the OBC issue, it did little to change the current process in the state, which requires affidavits from birthparents giving permission to obtain an OBC. Florida Republicans flipped five House seats and may flip a seat in the Senate in a race that is still undecided. Both chambers and the governor are deeply conservative and are hostile to equal rights legislation for adult adopted people, using abortion politics as the reason to deny those rights. It is not a good time to introduce equal rights legislation in Florida.
Please take a break, Iowa, as things are not going to turn out well. Iowa advocates have already agreed to OBC redaction provisions in prior bills, and the Senate overwhelmingly passed just such a bill in 2019. It would have allowed birthparents to redact information from the OBC upon request. Even this was not restrictive enough for House Republican leadership and it opposed changing the law at all, refusing to give the bill a vote. The bill died in 2019 (but reared its head briefly in 2020). The Iowa Adoptee and Family Coalition, a state group that agreed to the discriminatory provisions, has led efforts in the state so far.
Maryland has the best chance this coming session to enact equal rights legislation, provided that the pandemic does not continue to affect legislative business. First, last session’s unrestricted bill was on its way to passage before COVID-19 derailed everything. Second, Maryland did not hold state legislative races in 2020 so the makeup of the legislature remains largely the same. Look for state Senator Susan Lee or Delegate Michael Malone to be involved in introducing a bill again in 2021.
The Capitol Coalition for Adoptee Rights is involved in work in Maryland, and Maryland Adoptee Rights has been leading efforts on the ground.
You would think a thirteen-word amendment to current law, which eliminates a discriminatory date-based system for OBCs in Massachusetts, is a no-brainer. But it hasn’t been, and despite getting through the House this past year, the bill died in the Senate. Expect the same bill to be reintroduced again this coming year. It should be a priority for all advocates.
An unrestricted rights bill has been in the legislature for the prior two sessions, though it did not advance past initial assigned committees. The hope for some time has been to flip the state Senate to Democratic control, which could significantly increase the chances to move an equal rights bill forward. Democrats this past November 3 needed a net gain of two Senate seats and fell just short in that effort, flipping three seats while Republicans flipped two. Advocates have their work cut out for them again in trying to persuade Senate leadership to do away with the law’s absurdly complicated and discriminatory process. Add to that a legislature that will be fixated on COVID health and economic issues, and it may be yet another year for continuing to educate legislators on adoptee rights and original birth certificates. Contact the Minnesota Coalition for Adoption Reform for more information or to help.
Rhode Island is an unrestricted state but requires the adoptee to be at least 25 years of age to request the OBC. A bill last session sought to lower the age to 18, but the pandemic ultimately prevented the bill from advancing during the session. We do not know yet if it will be reintroduced this coming session.
Tennessee had a surprise bill last session that sought to eliminate a contact veto from current law. It appeared to be moving toward hearing until COVID-19 effectively shut down the country. While the bill did not eliminate a redaction provision in current law, it was a step forward in attempting to repeal the contact veto. We’ll see if the same bill is reintroduced in 2021.
The Texas legislature is in session every odd year, so 2021 is up soon. We are already seeing a ton of legislation introduced, though none so far involve adoptee rights. A prior bill last session made it out of committee but died on the House floor as time ran out for consideration. Rep. Gina Calanni, the sponsor of the bill, lost her reelection bid last week. In addition, while Democrats had hoped to take control of the state House by flipping nine seats, that effort crashed and burned, and the Democrats appear to have come away with a net loss of one seat, though three seats are still too close to call.
West Virginia has seen discriminatory redaction bills introduced in the last two sessions, and thankfully both bills died without consideration. We hope to see NO ACTION in the state in 2021 on the OBC issue, particularly with a legislature that has become significantly more conservative after the November 3 elections. Republicans flipped a whopping 16 seats in the state House and added three more in the Senate. The party now holds a supermajority in both chambers. Any OBC bill introduced in the legislature would ultimately include redaction or other discriminatory provisions, no matter how clean the bill is as introduced.
Mississippi, North Carolina, Vermont, and Wisconsin may see action in their legislatures on the issue of OBC rights, as they have had pending bills in those states in the past few years, though none of the bills provided an unrestricted right to the OBC. Wisconsin’s prior bill, in fact, related only to obtaining an order for adoption and kept the OBC sealed and restricted and part of a complex search and consent framework. Wisconsin, like Iowa, should let things rest for now or else more damage will be done.
Are you in a state that seeks to repeal discriminatory laws and to enact equal rights legislation for adult adopted people? Let us know. We may be able to help you with logistics in getting that effort off the ground, or at least take a look at the state to determine if it would be a good state currently to consider for future change.
Safe Haven Baby Boxes
Legislators in a number of states continue to push for “Safe Haven Baby Boxes,” literal metal boxes that are built into fire station and other public building walls, allowing birthparents to “drop” newly-born babies anonymously. Marley Greiner of Bastard Nation follows this issue closely and opposes such anonymous baby drops, which harken back to medieval child welfare practices. You can read more about that issue here and here.
Rehoming of Adoptees
An effort is underway to draft a uniform law to regulate the rehoming of adoptees and other children who have been removed from their homes, a practice more bureaucratically labeled as the “unregulated transfer” of children. We may see a draft uniform law in the next year, though reports from adoptee rights and child welfare advocates engaged in the effort are not positive.
A better and more direct approach—rather than haggling over a uniform law that does not require any jurisdiction to do anything— is U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin’s efforts to regulate rehoming directly through federal legislation. His Safe Home Act of 2019, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, would make unregulated custody transfers a form of child abuse and neglect under federal child-welfare law. Expect to see the bill reintroduced in the 117th Congress, which convenes in early January 2021.
Gregory Luce is an attorney and the president of Adoptees United Inc. He is also the founder of the Adoptee Rights Law Center, where he represents adult adopted people with issues involving original birth certificates, identity documents, and U.S. citizenship.