If you haven’t been following Florida this session, I’ll catch you up quick:
HB597 was introduced as a badly flawed bill mandating registration and reunion before applying for an OBC. Amendments in the Florida House gutted the bill but added provisions that now do absolutely nothing and, in doing so, actually makes things worse.
The history of this bill is frustrating and fascinating, and it provides a good lesson of what’s wrong with the “let’s do something, anything” approach to legislation. A secretive group is working with HB597’s sponsor to get something, anything, filed and heard this session. When HB597 was introduced, that group heralded the bill initially, then backed way off and tried to spin the bill only as seeking “to ease access to records for already reunited parties by removing the requirement for adoptive parent consent.” Except HB597 didn’t limit it to that sole issue—at all. It instead required an adoptee to register with a state-managed reunion registry and to “connect with” a birthparent before being allowed to apply for an OBC. Read the original bill here if you don’t believe me. This was a massive step backwards, and an action alert went out opposing the bill. I also wrote to the subcommittee members, and my email briefly summarizes the legal issue and and opposes its flawed framework:
I am a lawyer and the founder of the Adoptee Rights Law Center, a law firm and national resource for information and advocacy concerning adult adoptee rights.
I am writing to request that the Health Quality Subcommittee vote “NO” on HB597, an adoption-related bill that is before you on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. The bill as written increases government involvement and bureaucracy surrounding an adult adoptee’s request for an original birth certificate, requiring that the adult adoptee and a birthparent “connect with” each other first through Florida’s state-regulated reunion registry. Putting aside what is meant in the bill by “connect with,” such a requirement sets Florida backwards and is unnecessarily bureaucratic. Current law—as interpreted by the Bureau of Vital Statistics—allows release of a copy of the OBC with the written consent of birthparents named on the certificate (which is almost always only the mother). It makes no sense to require additional bureaucratic hoops using a registry and matching system, let alone create a new and complicated framework that ultimately discriminates against adult adoptees. For this reason alone, HB597 should be rejected.
If the intent of HB597 is to remove provisions that require adoptive parent permission to release an OBC, then the bill is also misplaced and would create a law that is unnecessary. There is no law in Florida requiring consent of an adoptive parent to release his or her own adult child’s original birth certificate. Rather, because the original birth certificate has only birth parent(s) and the adoptee listed, only birthparent and adoptee consent would be required under current law. If the issue is printing adoptive parent names on the OBC (as I understand is current practice of the Bureau), then that issue can be changed through administrative rule or administrative decision, not amending Florida law to erroneously imply that adoptive parent permission was ever needed. It is not required under current law so long as consent from the birthparent named on the OBC is provided.
I hope this explains my position on this bill, which has little support in the adoptee community and does little in the way of advancing this issue. In fact, the bill is a step backwards.
Pivoting, FLARE representatives—and I can only guess that they represent FLARE because literally no one admits to being a part of the group publicly—began to spin the bill as being “reworked” to address adoptive parent permission. I assumed by this that FLARE meant it would jettison the ridiculous registry involvement in an adoptee’s birth record. After all, current Florida law already allows adult adoptees to get the OBC with birthparent consent, whether they find each other at Arby’s or through Florida’s notoriously inefficient reunion registry.
And that was the issue repeatedly represented at two hearings, by Rep. Stark as well as by Bill Barrett, a pro bono lobbyist for FLARE. Rep. Stark and Barrett have ambiguously referred only to the bill as removing provisions for “adoptive parent permission.” Except the amended bill does nothing of the sort. In fact, it does nothing but shuffle some words around in the statute to say exactly what current law says: you can release the identity of the adoptive parent if you have adoptive parent permission. Bizarrely, it actually removes the language in the initial draft of the bill that specifically said the “permission of an adoptee’s adoptive parents is not required for an adoptee . . . to receive a noncertified copy of original certificate of birth.” The rewritten bill, quite literally, preserves existing law by wordsmithing existing law. In doing so, however, it ignores that the Bureau of Vital Statistics is misinterpreting that law and it quite clearly reaffirms a strong message: birthparent consent is required to obtain your own original birth certificate. Plus, Rep. Stark has now thrown birthparent redaction into the mix.
I’ve set out current law below with the “new” amended language in red. Read it for yourself or read the recent “strike-all” amendment here. Tell me where it says that the Bureau of Vital Statistics can no longer interpret the law to require adoptive parent permission to release the OBC. It’s not there. Worse, bill proponents continue to throw around court adoption law and the confidentiality of “adoption records” rather than addressing vital records law directly, which is in an entirely different section of Florida law. But, hey, I guess it’s something. Right, FLARE? Right? Anyone there? Hello? 🙁
Florida Code § 63.162 Hearings and records in adoption proceedings; confidential nature
(1) All hearings held in proceedings under this act shall be held in closed court without admittance of any person other than essential officers of the court, the parties, witnesses, counsel, persons who have not consented to the adoption and are required to consent, and representatives of the agencies who are present to perform their official duties.
(2) All papers and records pertaining to the adoption, including the original birth certificate, whether part of the permanent record of the court or a file in the office of an adoption entity are confidential and subject to inspection only upon order of the court; however, the petitioner in any proceeding for adoption under this chapter may, at the option of the petitioner, make public the reasons for a denial of the petition for adoption. The order must specify which portion of the records are subject to inspection, and it may exclude the name and identifying information concerning the parent or adoptee. Papers and records of the department, a court, or any other governmental agency, which papers and records relate to adoptions, are exempt from s. 119.07(1). In the case of an adoption not handled by the department or a child-placing agency licensed by the department, the department must be given notice of hearing and be permitted to present to the court a report on the advisability of disclosing or not disclosing information pertaining to the adoption. In the case of an agency adoption, the licensed child-placing agency must be given notice of hearing and be permitted to present to the court a report on the advisability of disclosing or not disclosing information pertaining to the adoption. This subsection does not prohibit the department from inspecting and copying any official record pertaining to the adoption that is maintained by the department or from inspecting and copying any of the official records maintained by an agency licensed by the department and does not prohibit an agency from inspecting and copying any official record pertaining to the adoption that is maintained by that agency.
(3) The court files, records, and papers in the adoption of a minor shall be indexed only in the name of the petitioner, and the name of the minor shall not be noted on any docket, index, or other record outside the court file, except that closed agency files may be cross-referenced in the original and adoptive names of the minor.
(4) (a) Without a court order pursuant to paragraph (b),
Aa person may not disclose from the records the name and identity of a birth parent, an adoptive parent, or an adoptee unless:
(a) The name and identity of the birth parent if the birth parent authorizes in writing the release of his or her name;
(b) The name and identity of the adoptee, if 18 or more years of age, if the adoptee authorizes in writing the release of his or her name; or, if the adoptee is less than 18 years of age, written consent to disclose the adoptee’s name is obtained from an adoptive parent; or
(c) The name and identity of the adoptive parent if the adoptive parent authorizes in writing the release of his or her name ; or
(d) A person may disclose from the records the name and identity of a birth parent, an adoptive parent, or an adoptee upon order of the court for good cause shown. In determining whether good cause exists, the court shall give primary consideration to the best interests of the adoptee, but must also give due consideration to the interests of the adoptive and birth parents. Factors to be considered in determining whether good cause exists include, but are not limited to:
1. The reason the information is sought;
2. The existence of means available to obtain the desired information without disclosing the identity of the birth parents, such as by having the court, a person appointed by the court, the department, or the licensed child-placing agency contact the birth parents and request specific information;
3. The desires, to the extent known, of the adoptee, the adoptive parents, and the birth parents;
4. The age, maturity, judgment, and expressed needs of the adoptee; and
5. The recommendation of the department, licensed child-placing agency, or professional which prepared the preliminary study and home investigation, or the department if no such study was prepared, concerning the advisability of disclosure.