State Senator William Ligon represents senate district 3.

State Senator William Ligon (R-Brunswick) serves the counties of Brantley, Camden, Charlton, Glynn, McIntosh, a Ware near Coastal Southeast Georgia ( Senate District 3). This Op-Ed was written by Senator Ligon and published unedited. The opinion of the author does not reflect the opinions of AllOnGeorgia. 

In order to provide much-needed context regarding House Bill 159, I am responding to columnist Richard Yarbrough’s renewed attacks against the Senate for our efforts to improve the adoption bill.

From his perch as a political commentator, Yarbrough writes what he pleases. Opinion doesn’t necessarily rest upon full context or facts. As he says, he may not be at the Capitol much, but his insider status has been established since the days of Governor Joe Frank Harris, when Yarbrough served on the Governor’s Education Reform Commission. From then until now, he has enjoyed political access and recently served on Governor Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission.

Though Yarbrough knows a thing or two about education, he is failing at civics 101 and civil discourse. As he describes the rewrite process of the adoption code, he fails his readers in at least two ways. First, he pronounces an incorrect judgment upon the intent of the entire Senate, suggesting that the time we needed to review the bill was mere political posturing. Secondly, he fails to provide enough context and instead cherry picks details that fit his toxic storyline.

Yarbrough knows that each legislative chamber has the duty to thoroughly review and amend legislation. He knows that it is late in the session (about day 30 of the 40-day session) when the Senate receives the last of the bills from the House and vice-versa. So, it will usually be late in the session when the Senate or the House amends the other chamber’s bills during the committee process. Yet, knowing all this, Yarbrough insists that my amendment last year to the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee was “sneaked in at the last minute.”

In 2017, the House passed HB 159 after working on it for two years without any involvement from the Senate. It was sent to our chamber on the 28th day of the session with the expectation that we immediately pass the bill without amendment, something that rarely happens. The committee adopted my amendment to ensure that mission-based agencies could continue providing services to the State in the manner they always had, an amendment derided by Yarbrough and members of the media. Furthermore, the Senate had additional concerns about other aspects of the bill and chose to hold it for in-depth review.

The Senate Judiciary members worked on the bill in the summer and fall with the help of judges and child-placement agencies, making significant improvements. For example, the Senate insisted that a birth mother should have at least four days after the birth of a child to reconsider her decision to place that child for adoption. The Senate also insisted that adopting parents must be age 25, unless it is a married couple or a relative, in which case the minimum age is 21. We also ensured that a father’s due process rights were protected before his parental rights could be terminated. We reinstated oversight for expenses reimbursed to birth mothers to keep adoption affordable, but because the House would not agree, we will commit that issue to a study committee.

Furthermore, we made provision for parents through power-of-attorney to allow competent adults or organizations to care for their children for short time periods, thus reducing the burden on an already strained foster care system. Yarbrough is correct that this provision was passed last year by the House and Senate in a separate bill, but then was vetoed. After considering the Governor’s concern about the lack of State oversight, the language now requires background checks for those whom parents choose as temporary caregivers. We did not agree, however, that these temporary situations need the constant involvement of the Department of Family and Children Services, and the House ultimately agreed with our position.

If the Senate had been holding this bill “hostage,” as accused by Yarbrough, we would have waited until the end of the session to send it over to the House or not acted upon it at all. As it is, the House adopted most of our amendments, and the Senate agreed to final passage on Monday. The State Senate did what voters expect us to do. It vetted and improved a very important bill.

We also are taking up Senate Bill 375, which I am sponsoring, to help ensure that faith-based agencies will continue partnering with the State. Their mission to serve others according to their religious beliefs has been in existence long before the State became involved in adoption or foster care. We are aware of situations in other states where faith-based agencies have been faced with the choice of compromising their religious beliefs or closing their doors, such as in Massachusetts and Illinois. We cannot afford for agencies to close in Georgia as happened in those states.

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