- Jackie Borchardt Columbus Bureau
State lawmakers in both chambers are considering a plan to make the adoption process quicker and less expensive for adoptive parents, a goal anti-abortion advocates outlined earlier this year, but some involved in the process say the plan is unnecessary.
A pair of bills in the House and Senate would increase the state adoption tax credit to $10,000 from $1,500, shorten the time line for finalizing an adoption and give birth parents notice of their rights early in the process to help prevent birth parents from claiming children after the child has been placed with an adoptive family.
But the bills have a few differences. House Bill 307 would allow the $10,000 tax credit to roll over for three years, while Senate Bill 250 would make the credit available only in the year the adoption is finalized and unused tax credit dollars would be returned back to the taxpayer. The Senate bill holds adoption agencies and lawyers accountable for money sent to the birth mother for living expenses pre-adoption.
Both bills shorten the amount of time before an adoption is finalized to 60 days from one year and reduce the time a birth father has to register with the state and preserve his right to consent to the adoption to seven days from 30 days.
Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, said she introduced the Senate version after many discussions with adoption advocates. Jones said the one-time $10,000 tax credit is a small sum compared to the state fostering children at about $25,000 per child per year.
“We’re trying to streamline the process to formalize adoptive families and certainly it saves resources, but is also most importantly in the best interest of the child and family,” Jones said.
Ohio Right to Life, the state’s largest and oldest anti-abortion organization, pushed the legislation earlier this year as its only legislative effort during the second half of 2013. President Mike Gonidakis said the bill is an attempt to improve newborn adoptions in the hopes more women would choose adoption instead of abortion.
“We’ve reached far and wide to ensure that our goals of making adoption cheaper, less bureaucratic and more efficient will happen,” Gonidakis said.
But some adoption attorneys question the need for the legislation, and pro-abortion groups question the motives of Ohio Right to Life. Newborn adoptees are in high demand, while about 2,000 children in Ohio’s foster system are awaiting adoption — 1,291 were adopted in 2012, according to the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.
Erik Smith, a Columbus attorney who has worked in adoption challenge cases, said Ohio’s adoption process doesn’t need the proposed changes. Smith said the one-year finalization period is to make sure the child is well-placed in his or her new family, not to allow birth parents to claim their children after surrendering their parental rights.
“It’s really an overblown fear,” Smith said. “We’re placing a child in a home. We’ve got to make sure everything’s working out. We can’t just assume that because someone wants to adopt, they’re just wonderful people.”
The Senate bill also requires birth mothers to send notice to the presumed father before birth, and the father must then register in a state database called the Putative Father Registry to receive future information about the adoption.
Smith, who attempted to register himself in the little-known database as an interested law school student, said seven days after birth is not enough time for a birth parent to hire a lawyer and get advice for how to proceed. About 60,000 unwed mothers give birth each year in Ohio, but only 538 men registered with the state from 2011 to September 2013.
“They want to make it easier to trip up fathers,” Smith said.
Gonidakis, who with his wife has adopted two children, said newborn adoptions can cost $20,000 to $40,000, and the high cost shuts out many middle-class families, single parents or others who want to adopt.
The state began offering a $1,500 tax credit in 2008, which costs the state about $2 million in forgone revenue each year. A $10,000 refundable tax credit would cost the state an estimated $6 to $9 million each year, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission. The effect of a refundable tax credit has not been evaluated.
Jones said low- and middle-income families who want to adopt would not be able to take advantage of a non-refundable credit.
“This is where it could really help those children that are in foster families, because a lot of people who foster that may want to adopt a child are at an income level that doing that doesn’t help them,” Jones said.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio is monitoring the legislation, in part, because of Ohio Right to Life’s involvement. Policy Director Jaime Miracle said adoption legislation should uphold the rights of all involved and some adoption experts she’s spoken with are concerned about birth parents’ rights.
“This should be about supporting adoptees and adoptive and birth parents,” Miracle said. “This should not be a tug of war on a choice issue.”