I’m working on OBC-related legislation in a number states, including New York, Texas, and Minnesota. As I’ve said before, Minnesota is one of the most complicated states in which to enact a clean OBC law, primarily because it became the first dirty state more than forty years ago, in 1977. Since that time, it has stacked up more than 1,300 birthparent “vetoes,” which retroactively prevent the release of original birth records to adult adoptees, even after a birthparent’s death (this is what I call a zombie veto). In helping to draft a new and clean bill for this coming session, it has proven difficult to undo those vetoes and to do so without essentially delivering a bill that goes nowhere (which, of course, is also an option).
So, here’s your mission, and it’s partially inspired by people on social media telling me that drafting a clean Minnesota bill should be easy peasy. Assuming that’s true, give it a try. Help draft a clean Minnesota bill that, within three years of enactment, recognizes an unrestricted right for all adult adoptees to obtain their own original birth records upon request. I’ve provided a template that you can edit here, and I’ll weigh in on ideas or comments as you present them.
Sound easy? Well, here are the political parameters to deal with:
- Minnesota’s vital records division reports that 1,347 birthparents have filed “affidavits of non-disclosure,” the term Minnesota uses for the power of a birthparent either to 1) prohibit the release of an original birth record or 2) require redaction of the birthparent’s identifying information on the record. This number represents affidavits filed for adoptee birth years between 1935 and 2012. The count was current as of 2014.
- A coalition of at least nine adoption-related organizations met in 2014 and early 2015 to discuss how best to reform Minnesota law around the issue of adult adopted persons obtaining their own original birth records. You can read more about that effort here (I was not involved in the effort but I do work collaboratively with the Minnesota Coalition for Adoption Reform). The primary result was a bill that all participants agreed on. That bill continued the existence of disclosure vetoes, which has created its own issue even after the bill went nowhere: the nine organizational endorsers who accepted this version of reform in 2015 may not now support another version that is genuinely clean and removes the dirty provisions. Not an impossible change of heart for them, but at least take that into account too.
- Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the anti-abortion organization in Minnesota, opposes nearly all efforts to amend Minnesota’s OBC law and has used its power in the past to kill bills. While the latest state-level elections in Minnesota have significantly diminished MCCL’s power over legislators, it is something to consider.
- Minnesota legislators have not introduced a clean bill in the legislature in the last twenty years, and may have never considered a clean bill—ever. Since 1997, at least 31 bills have been introduced, and every bill contained provisions in it that 1) continued the practice of providing birthparent veto power over the release of an original birth record; or 2) left current vetoes in place; or 3) did both of these things. A bill that passed both legislative chambers in 2008 was dirty, and the Minnesota governor at the time, Tim Pawlenty, promptly vetoed it—not because it provided “access” to the birth record but because he believed it went too far in doing so.
I am not arguing for dirty legislation. I never will. Rather, I’m laying out current tasks and parameters that go with drafting clean legislation in Minnesota, which is not too different from cleaning up messes created by the more recent dirty laws in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. I’m also asking this: can a clean bill be crowdsourced? I don’t know the answer to that, but at least I’m pushing back and asking people to step up if they believe it is easy to draft such a bill, crowdsourced or not.
Need some help? I’ve put all the relevant laws together here, along with some commentary to explain various provisions in a little more detail. If you want to start with a clean copy of the relevant laws yourself, you can review and download this version. Good luck.
Relevant Minnesota Law (via Google Docs)
Please understand that these are current laws, not a proposed bill. You can also find these laws on my Minnesota page here.