Georgia House passes sweeping changes to adoption code

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ATLANTA (AP) – The Georgia House on Thursday unanimously passed a sweeping revamp to the state’s adoption code, seeking to revive an ambitious overhaul that stalled last year when a controversial “religious freedom” clause was added by the Senate.

That amendment, since scuttled, would have allowed adoption agencies to cite their religious beliefs and refuse to give children to LGBT couples.

This year’s bill to speed up the state’s lengthy adoption process incorporates several changes pushed for by the Senate in order to reach a compromise position with the House. Notably, it does not include the same type of “religious exemption” language that derailed the measure last year, increasing the likelihood that Republican Gov. Nathan Deal would sign it into law if it reaches his desk.

The Senate adjourned for the weekend without taking a vote after Thursday’s House passage, and it was unclear when it would vote on the legislation.

Deal said on Twitter that he hopes Senate action is taken soon.

“I applaud its unanimous passage in the House and look forward to swift action by the Senate,” the governor tweeted shortly after House passage. “The sooner this compromise is passed, the sooner I will sign it into law.”

Republican Rep. Bert Reeves of Marietta, who sponsored this year’s legislation, said the bill would help to modernize Georgia’s adoption code and bring it more in line with neighboring states, which have less complicated adoption procedures.

“In the nearly three decades that have passed since the last update of Georgia adoption law, Georgia has been left behind by most of the states in the nation,” Reeves said. “All types of adoptions … have been slowed by our antiquated and outdated processes.”

The lengthy bill seeks to make numerous technical changes to the state’s decades-old adoption code, which was last updated before the widespread use of the internet.

One major change would reduce the length of time a birth mother has to change her mind and take back custody of a baby from 10 days to four. Another would make it possible for adoptive parents to help a birth mother with certain living expenses in private adoptions, something currently prohibited by Georgia law.

A similar bill stalled last year amid tense debate after Republican senators changed the bill to allow adoption agencies to refuse placement based on religious beliefs. Deal and House leaders at the time unsuccessfully called for the Senate to act on the bill without the religious exemption language.

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