I’ve been involved with a number of advocates and organizations in New York as they pursue clean adoptee rights legislation. As happens, questions are suddenly popping up about all sorts of issues around a current bill, some of them in response to rumor and some in response to legitimate concerns. In order to settle some of the questions and rumors, I’ve set out some answers to what I’ve seen, heard, and been privy to. Also, I always suggest one simple thing: read the text of the bill. The bill’s text is on the website for the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition, of which Adoptee Rights Law Center is a partner.
What is the bill number of the current adoptee rights bill in New York?
The latest version of an adoptee rights bill in New York is A9959B. It’s companion bill in the Senate (sometimes called the “same as” bill) is S7631B. Both bills are identical and both are currently assigned to committees in each chamber.
What does A9959B/S7631B do?
At its core, the bill recognizes the unrestricted right of an adult adoptee to request and obtain a certified copy of his or her original birth certificate. This bill is what is known as a clean bill. It does not have any discriminatory restrictions.
How old does an adoptee have to be under the bill to request his or her original birth certificate.
An adopted person must be at least 18 years of age to request the OBC.
Can descendants of an adoptee obtain the original birth certificate?
Yes. The bill provides that direct line descendants of a deceased adoptee may request and obtain a certified copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate.
Can anyone else obtain a certified copy of the OBC, besides the adult adoptee or that adoptee’s descendants?
Yes, the bill also allows a lawful representative of the adoptee, or the adoptee’s descendants, to obtain a certified copy of the OBC.
What form of the original birth certificate will be provided?
The bill provides that adult adoptees— or, if deceased, their direct line descendants—will receive certified copies of “original long form line by line, vault copy birth certificates and any change attached to that certificate by a birth parent or parents . . . ”
What’s a long form line by line vault copy of an original birth certificate?
The long form certificate is the original certificate on file with the appropriate agency that holds the information. It is not a summary of the record nor a transcript from the record. Under this bill, it is a certified copy of the original document as filed shortly after a registration of birth.
I was born in New York City and my original birth certificate is on file with the New York City Department of Health. Does this bill apply to OBCs filed in New York City?
Yes. NYARC, the coalition of which Adoptee Rights Law Center is a part of, worked hard to assure the the bill applies to any OBC on file in any local agency or department. Specific provisions in the bill define “department” to include the “department of health and mental hygiene of the city of New York.” The term “commissioner” in the bill is also defined to include the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Is there a contact preference form for birthparents in the bill?
No, a contact preference form has not been raised or discussed by the bill’s sponsors. A provision in the bill, however, specifically provides that a birthparent may submit his or her name and address to the registrar, which will accompany the original birth certificate when it is released. That provision states:
An adopted person eighteen years of age or older, or the birth parent or parents, may submit to the registrar a notice of change of name and/or address and such information shall be attached to the original birth certificate of the adopted person.
How much will it cost to obtain an OBC under this bill?
The bill limits the fee to a “nominal fee.” It’s not expected to be greater than the fee already charged to non-adopted persons when they request their own birth certificates.
I was born in Florida but adopted in New York. Can I get a copy of my original birth certificate under this bill?
Possibly. Those born in a state other than New York almost always have their original birth certificates on file with their state of birth. Under this bill, however, a person who cannot in good faith obtain their OBC from the appropriate health department will be entitled to at least identifying information from the court or agency involved in the adoption. The identifying information will be that which “would have appeared on [the] original birth certificate.” This would typically cover adoptees born in a state other than New York but adopted in New York. The bill, in fact, mentions this situation specifically.
Is there opposition to this bill?
Publicly, I know only that the Women’s Bar Association of New York (WBASNY) has opposed similar legislation in the past, based on the false notion that the State of New York promised birthparents anonymity in relation to an adoptee’s own official state birth record. This is patently untrue. If you have questions about WBASNY’s current position, I suggest that you contact Amy Baldwin Littman, the current President of WBASNY, to ask if her organization still opposes equality for all adult adoptees. I’d love to hear anything that you learn.
I’ve seen the bill described as providing only a “birth certificate” and not an “original birth certificate.” Is this a problem?
No, it is not a problem—at all. While I appreciate seeing comments on this “issue,” it is absurd to suggest A9959B will not provide an original birth certificate. The bill language states clearly and unequivocally that an OBC is available upon request to an adult adoptee or that adult adoptee’s descendants. How a legislator or staff member describes the bill in informal introductions—or in conversations— has zero impact on the bill when the the language itself is crystal clear about what it does.
Do you expect more amendments?
That’s hard to say. There is a provision in the bill that changes the procedure slightly for obtaining an amended birth certificate once it is issued after an adoption or other event (such as acknowledgement of paternity). This provision is confusing and may need to be omitted in future amendments. It does not make sense in the context of the bill itself.
What happens if the bill is amended again?
It will be given a “C” at the end, as in A9959C. New York is somewhat different this way. As bills are amended they receive a letter generally indicating how many amendments have previously occurred. Thus, this bill started out as A9959 and has now gone thought two amendments so that it is now A9959B. A third amendment would create A9959C.
What were the prior amendments to A9959B?
The first amendment sought primarily to add descendants of the adoptee as a class of people who may request and obtain the adoptee’s original birth certificate. It also clarified that the bill applied to local registrars in addition to the state registrar. The second set of amendments were more technical in nature and were used to clean up some language and make minor provisions in the bill more consistent.
When is the effective date of the bill, if enacted?
The effective date is January 15, 2019.
What more can I do to make sure this bill is passed and signed by Governor Cuomo?
You can do three things right now:
- Join the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition to get updates and information, including calls to action as they are issued;
- Contact Governor Andrew Cuomo at (518) 474-8390 to request that he push legislative leaders to pass A9959B. You can also contact Governor Cuomo online here.
- Stay informed. As the New York legislative session winds down and will adjourn by June 20, you may see all kinds of rumors and other information being floated around. Come back here to get the latest updates or, better yet, follow NYARC on Facebook and Twitter. NYARC will have the latest information and will tell it like it is, without rumor or innuendo.