I’m not sure what to make of two new bills recently filed in Missouri. One attempts to create a contact preference form for adoptees, while another attempts to expand who can access identifying information in court and agency files. Both bills, however, appear nonsensical in getting there, plus it’s increasingly confusing as to why these bills are necessary or who in Missouri is advocating for such changes. The bills’ sponsor is Don Phillips, who with MARM recently brought us the badly flawed OBC access bill in Missouri—which ironically went into effect this week. I’ve reached out to Representative Phillips to ask for his clarification of his two newly filed bills but have yet to hear back. As currently drafted, here’s what they do. I’ll tee up the less weird one first.
Note. HB1714 did not formally make it out of committee and appears dead for the session, which ends on May 18, 2018.
This bill attempts to change the way the court releases identifying information and to whom. Under current Missouri law, only an an adopted adult or the adopted adult’s lineal descendants may request a court to release identifying information, and identifying information is defined only as information on a birthparent. Once requested, the court authorizes an agency to search for the birthparent, unless a birthparent has already consented to the release of the information. If the child-placing agency does not find a birthparent, no information is released.
The bill, however, eliminates one word in one section of the law so as to significantly change the procedure when a known birthparent cannot be notified of an adoptee’s request for information. The bill states:
If the child-placing agency or juvenile court personnel reports to the court that it has been unable to notify the biological parent within three months, the identifying information shall
not be disclosed to the adopted adult or the adopted adult’s lineal descendants.
The bill also attempts to expand what information is released by the court. Currently, only information—that is, the name, date of birth, place of birth, and last known address of a birthparent—is released to the adopted adult under certain circumstances. HB1714 attempts to expand that to include “copies of all documents contained in the adoption file, and any personal items or correspondence in the agency’s or court’s possession.” But these records are released to the adoptee only if both birthparents cannot be found, are deceased, or consent to release (or some combination of these factors). But wait. It gets more confusing.
HB1714 would also add “biological parent, biological grandparent, or adult sibling of the adopted adult” as foks who can request identifying information. This is the weirdest part of the bill. As it is currently written, biological parents, grandparents, or adult siblings of the adoptee can request identifying information . . . about biological parents. Wait, I take that back. The bill would only allow parents, grandparents, or siblings to request identifying information about a biological parent, but such information is released only to the adopted adult (who may not want the request). In other words, as written, a biological parent can request his or her own identifying information and that information can be released to the adopted adult but only if the biological parent requesting it can be found, is not found, or consents to release of the biological parent’s info. Make sense? I didn’t think so. Feel free to read the bill here and let me know how you interpret it, particularly how it relates to parents, grandparents, or adult siblings of the adopted adult.
With my best guess, this bill attempts to do three things:
- Create an adoptee contact preference form for, well, I’m not sure;
- Limit the timeframe a birthparent may redact information on the original birth certificate – note, this provision is no longer in the bill;
- Allow descendants of adoptees to request the original birth certificate of their adopted ancestor.
The bill succeeds in doing one of these things: descendants may request an adopted ancestor’s original birth certificate, though release would still be subject to all the redaction and veto provisions in current Missouri law, including a zombie veto that extends beyond the death of the birthparent. As for the other two items, here’s where it goes a little bonkers:
Adoptee Contact Preference Form. This is the first I’ve ever heard of one of these, probably for good reason: they make absolutely no sense in the context of adoptees requesting original birth certificates. Remember, this is an adoptee’s original birth certificate, possibly listing the adoptee’s given name and likely at least one birthparent name. Though the bill adds a provision that a birthparent must show proof of identification to the registrar, the bill says nothing about why a birthparent now has to do this. For fun? Just to make sure they aren’t filling things willy nilly. There’s no provision for a birthparent to request an OBC—anywhere. Nor is there any indication that the adoptee’s contact preference form is treated any differently than one completed by a birthparent. That means that, once completed by an adoptee, the contact preference form is attached to his or her original birth certificate. Once the adoptee requests his or her OBC, they get their own adoptee contact preference form right back, attached to their OBC. There may be a birthparent contact preference form also attached to the OBC, which may have redactions. But nothing in the bill does anything with adoptee contact preference forms except to return it to adoptees. OK. Update: recent Senate committee amendments, which passed unanimously, now provide a mechanism for a birth parent to request the adoptee’s OBC. Whether that adoptee’s CPF actually gets to the birthparent is up for debate, as a separate unamended provision still requires the CPF to be placed in a sealed envelope and provided only to the adoptee when the adoptee requests the OBC.
Redaction Can Be Requested Only for One Year After Relinquishment. Or Does It Last for One Year? Or Is It WTF? UPDATE: This provision has been removed from the current bill. The only effective way to describe this provision of the bill is to restate the following: What the Missouri Is Going On? This part of the bill makes no sense. Missouri already allows redaction of birthparent information upon request, even if a birthparent wants contact through a third party intermediary. But the new bill inexplicably states that birthparent “information shall only be redacted for one year from the date of relinquishment.” Huh? A birthparent fills out a contact preference form today, but it is good for only one year from the date of relinquishment, which may have happened decades ago? That is, is it invalid as soon as it is filed? Or is the bill—by saying specifically that “information shall only be redacted for one year from the date of relinquishment”— trying to limit requests for redactions to within one year of relinquishment? That is, a birthparent—all new birthparents effectively—now have one year after relinquishment to request redaction? Hard to say. It is so poorly written that any advice to a client would be meaningless. In fact, please go nuts in the comments below and come up with as many scenarios as you can to flesh out this provision. I can think of dozens of crazy ones. And bonus exercise: what happens if an adoptee and a birthparent each request no contact? Does everyone get a commemorative piece of black construction paper with no information on it except the phrase “For genealogical purposes only – not to be used for establishing identity.”
Ultimately, what these bills represent is an effort to “regitize” a request for an original birth certificate. That is, they build on a current discriminatory framework and create a system mirroring a mutual consent registry, where an original birth certificate essentially becomes a lucky prize that is awarded. The OBC is not seen as a record to which the adoptee has a right to obtain.
It reflects a further effort to bury adoptee rights within an increasingly dizzying set of laws and regulations, based on consent, with the end result that the very concept of adoptee rights is undermined and rejected. If you look at these bills and again ask the question “What the Missouri is Going On?” a decent answer is to look around you. So-called adoptee advocates are now arguing we have no rights and should merely take an equal seat next to all the other folks who want to control the release of own information. Even after a powerful adoptee-led coalition in New York succeeded in getting a dirty bill vetoed by Governor Cuomo—the first veto ever in such a context—at least one advocate immediately complained that we should not even mention rights when discussing original birth certificates. Check that out. If you do, you may get a better idea of what the Missouri is actually going on.