Dick Yarbrough: Legislature turns adoption efforts into political sausage

Published 5:30 pm Thursday, April 27, 2017

There is a saying that the two things you don’t want to see made are law and sausage. Sometimes, they are hard to tell apart. State Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, can speak first-hand about how the political process can stink worse than ground-up hog parts.
Georgia’s adoption laws are antiquated and in serious need of updating. The last time the state code was updated was in 1990, due mainly to the efforts of a state senator by the name of Nathan Deal.
There are currently 12,000 foster children in Georgia. The average time for foster care adoption in our state is a bit more than two-and-a-half years. Nationally, the figure is just over a year. Many Georgia families go out-of-state to adopt because it is easier.
Rep. Reeves began an effort two years ago to modernize the code, working with the Georgia Council of Adoption Lawyers, the Department of Family and Children Services, the Council of Superior Court Judges and adoption agencies among others in crafting appropriate legislation.
Reeves says the bill was simply a rewrite and modernization of the current code to make the adoption process more efficient, (since the last rewrite, something called the internet has appeared on the scene), to give judges more leeway in determining custody issues and to streamline international adoption procedures.
In late February, Reeves’ bill passed out of the House of Representatives unanimously and then was sent to the state Senate. At the request of a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, changes to the bill were made and agreed upon and everything seemed in order to pass the bill out of the full committee, through the Senate and then onto the governor’s desk for his signature.
That is when the stink of petty politics began to permeate the place. As the Senate Judiciary Committee was getting set to consider Reeves’ bill, Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, informed Reeves he had tacked on an amendment to the bill that would allow mission-based adoption agencies not to have to place children with same-sex parents. Suddenly, bipartisanship became politically toxic.
Let me stop at this point to say that if this matter was that important to Ligon and his colleagues, they had had all session to introduce a separate bill to deal with that issue. He didn’t. He chose to hijack Bert Reeves’ bill.
By springing his amendment on Rep. Reeves a couple of hours before the hearing, he disrespected the bill’s author by not giving Reeves ample time to discuss the proposed amendment. The Marietta Daily Journal called it a “cowardly act.” I call it unprofessional and unbecoming a principled legislator who should know better.
Again, you don’t like the idea of same-sex couples adopting children? Great. Then pass a law to that effect. There’s no law against that. You had all session to do so. Don’t stick a last-minute amendment into a bill that would have helped streamline an outdated process and made it easier to find homes for a group of kids that don’t deserve to be caught in the middle of this kind of political gamesmanship.
Gov. Deal opposed the effort to amend the legislation, as did DFACS Executive Director Bobby Cagle. House Speaker David Ralston urged the Senate to pass Reeves’ bill. But as time dwindled down to the wee moments before adjournment, Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer, who is making noises about running for lieutenant governor, threatened to have Rep. Reeves thrown off the Senate floor for trying to encourage senators to pass his bill. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is obviously running for governor, seems to have taken a pass on the whole matter. As the session ended, the Senate “recommitted” the bill for more study, effectively killing two years of hard work by Rep. Reeves.
How did a good-faith effort to update Georgia’s adoption laws turn into such a rancid piece of sausage? It’s the politics, stupid. This wasn’t about Georgia’s foster children. It was about ambitious politicians getting themselves positioned to run for statewide office next year and trying hard not to offend their right-wing base or the business community who sit on different sides of the same-sex-anything argument. Georgia’s foster children were merely pawns.
Do me a favor: The first politician who comes to you seeking your vote for statewide office and tells you it is all about the future of our children — throw up on their shoes and tell them it was the sausage that made you do it.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.