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Adoption bill still in need of a heart

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© St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2001

Skip Campbell is a Democratic state senator from Tamarac and father of two adopted children. He has also led the battle to rewrite Florida's adoption law and loves to talk about how many children have been ripped from the loving arms of their adoptive parents because the law failed to properly protect them.

But don't ask him how many times it's happened.

I asked him and found out he doesn't know.

Some people think of Baby Sam, who was born in Florida but adopted in Alabama and whose birth father is fighting to get him back. But Baby Sam's fate was decided under Alabama law, not Florida's.

The lack of statistics to establish the existence of a problem did not stop Campbell.

The Legislature passed a bill last month revising the state's adoption law so dramatically that the law, which now fills just over 20 pages in the statute books, expands to more than 100.

The dizzying print of the legalese boils to this: The bill would put the power to stop an adoption in the hands of a birth father, whether or not he behaved responsibly toward the birth mother during her pregnancy.

It is enough to make anybody who has been through an adoption see red.

I've been through one. I'm an adoptive parent.

I saw so much red that my brain took flight, and my heart took completely over, when I wrote about the bill last Thursday. I made some mistakes in explaining details of the bill.

A correction was published on Saturday, but I am still hanging my head.

Mea maxima culpa.

But I have good company in the oops department.

This bill is so bad that one of its co-sponsors wants changes, even though the bill has passed the Legislature and merely needs the governor's signature to become law.

Pay attention to what State Rep. Johnny Byrd, R-Plant City, says. Not only is he in line to be the next Speaker of the House. He's one of those conservative Republicans who regards abortion as abomination and adoption as its only antidote.

The changes Byrd wants are intended to make men claim responsibility for their children, and to give adoptive parents more peace of mind.

Byrd wants to create a state paternity registry, similar to one in Texas and nearly three dozen other states. A man who thinks he's made a woman pregnant and wants to claim that child has until 30 days after birth to sign the registry.

The Texas Paternity Registry began during the gubernatorial tenure of Jeb Bush's big brother. An official with the Texas Health Department says that in the past 31/2, more than 450 men have come forward to try to gain custody.

That's no small number.

Florida law now gives birth parents up to two years to challenge an adoption for fraud or duress. The revised law would keep that two-year limit but adds new grounds to challenge the adoption

Byrd wants to cut the two years to six months.

Byrd was returning to Tallahassee on Monday night to start working on ways to make the changes. An additional law might even be required.

Adoption lawyers don't think this is enough. Maybe they're right. But it's a start.

It's probably also a sign that the bill is in trouble.

If anybody is listening, I would ask that this bill be deep-sixed. Let Gov. Bush, if he wants the adoption law to be fair to everybody, set up a group of people from all sides of the adoption process to talk their way to a solution. He should tell them to stop thinking about the rights of adults, and to stop slamming adoption lawyers for being greedy. They are surely no more or less greedy than personal injury lawyers like Skip Campbell, the bill's sponsor. They should stop distracting themselves. They should pay attention to the children.

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