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A promise is broken, and kids will pay

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MELONE
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By MARY JO MELONE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 8, 2001


The best news of the legislative session in Tallahassee is that it's over.

The worst news is what lawmakers did to adoption.

Even the governor was treated as a minor impediment to the success of this campaign.

Its leaders had no numbers to back up their arguments. But we're not talking about the National Academy of Science. We're talking about the Florida Legislature.

They weren't going to let facts get in the way.

Some were convinced scores of children were being ripped from their adoptive parents' arms because the adoptions were botched by bad lawyers.

The bad lawyers never bothered to find the birth fathers who, the legislators were equally sure, wanted desperately to be responsible for their kids.

So the Legislature passed a bill this year changing the adoption law.

It sent most adoption lawyers and adoption agencies, who live and breathe the private drama of adoption, into orbit.

The bill gave birth fathers -- most of them not to be confused with Eagle Scouts -- rights that could, plain and simple, muck up adoptions.

Even Gov. Bush thought so. He wanted to veto the bill.

But he wanted adoption reform. So, in the political version of taking action while holding his nose, he let the bill become law without his signature.

He did it because he said he had been promised by the bill's sponsor in the state Senate, Democrat Skip Campbell of Tamarac, that a new bill would be passed to fix the problems in the first.

The biggest problem Bush saw was the same problems the critics saw: the lack of responsibility required of men.

So the new bill proposed adding a paternity registry.

The registry would have required men who wanted to raise the children they fathered to declare their intentions in writing to the state. If the men did so, they'd get their children.

The House passed the new bill. It got to the Senate last week. The Senate, starting in the judiciary committee and then on the floor, removed the paternity registry.

The registry is not revolutionary. Most states have one.

But as Florida once tried to say of itself -- until people figured out how the words looked on paper -- the rules are different here. Some senators thought the registry requiring men to act like adults smacked of big government.

They thought the registry intruded into private lives. Never mind that the mess people make of their private lives is what makes adoption, and the laws to regulate it, necessary.

Keep in mind these lawmakers are also grown-ups. Or posing as them.

The Senate passed the reworked adoption bill, minus the paternity registry. The session ended before the bill could be reconsidered by the House.

All that was left was the original adoption reform bill that the governor didn't like.

That was Campbell's original bill.

Surprise, surprise: Once the registry had been removed, Campbell voted for the legislation.

I tried to reach Campbell Monday. I wanted to ask if he hadn't broken his promise to Bush.

But I had no luck.

The governor was also out of luck -- and embarrassed.

He said Monday he was going to veto the original adoption bill, except for that promise of a better bill to come.

"I'm not going to do that ever again," Bush said.

Talk about your on-the-job training.

But the rest of us did have our eyes opened too.

If the dominant party is willing to combine with some Democrats to snooker a Republican governor and tinker with the futures of children, then there is no limit to what they'll do. They are incapable of shame.

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