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Speaker blocks hearing of revised adoption law

The bill would give the babies' fathers more rights, its proponents say. But it likely won't make it to the House floor.

By SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- As soon as Irene Vietri heard that lawmakers were considering changes to the state's adoption laws, she bought a new skirt and called for a Greyhound bus schedule.

Mrs. Vietri, of Palm Harbor, lost her grandson four years ago. The boy's mother placed him for adoption without the consent of the father, Vietri's son.

The grandmother wants to ask the Legislature to change the laws so other fathers don't lose their children the way her son did. But she won't have the chance.

House Speaker John Thrasher said this week that he won't allow a bill to alter adoption laws to be heard in a House committee. Without a hearing, it is unlikely to reach a vote by the full House and make it to Gov. Jeb Bush's desk.

"I'm going to pass that on to the next generation of legislators," said Thrasher, R-Orange Park, who leaves office this year because of term limits.

Among other new rules, the proposal would require a 48-hour waiting period before a birth mother could release her child for adoption. It would force adoption attorneys and agencies to search more extensively for birth fathers to confirm their consent.

State Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, has shepherded the bill to the Senate floor, where it awaits a vote. Supporters of Campbell's bill include the Florida Bar, Children's Home Society and the Florida Catholic Conference.

Opponents, primarily adoption attorneys, applauded Thrasher's move to block the measure from passage in the House.

The proposal "would have a devastating effect on adoptions in this state," said Jeff Kasky, an attorney and vice president of One World Adoption Services in Hollywood.

"The majority of the adoption agencies and the attorneys out there ... are really doing what they think are in the best interests of the child. They're not looking to take babies away from birth mothers who don't want to give them up," Kasky said.

A similar measure died last year in the House, partly because of objections from Rep. Debby Sanderson, a Republican from Fort Lauderdale with a key leadership role.

This year, Thrasher said, the time for debate has run out.

"It's too late," he said. "The differences are so broad and wide, (a hearing) wouldn't be very productive."

Mrs. Vietri knows her son's case is unusual.

It began in 1996, when Christopher Vietri's girlfriend became pregnant with their child. They split up during the pregnancy. When the mother gave birth, she told Vietri the child had died.

Instead, she gave the boy to a Tampa adoption agency, Adoption by Choice, and said she didn't know who the father was.

"Baby Sam," as he became known in news reports, was adopted by an Alabama couple. After Florida trial and appellate courts ruled in Christopher Vietri's favor for Baby Sam's return, an Alabama judge awarded custody to the adoptive parents.

The judge's ruling was based, in part, on the adoptive parents' argument that Vietri effectively abandoned his son by mistreating the child's mother. The judge also declared that remaining with his adoptive parents was in Baby Sam's best interests.

The Vietris have appealed the case to the Alabama Supreme Court.

Mrs. Vietri, 57, planned to take a bus ride to Tallahassee next week to testify before lawmakers.

"They need to put a little more thought into this because they hurt children," she said. "If the laws had been changed (in 1996), we would have Sam now."

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