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Foster children once again pawns in game of political posturing

Dick Yarbrough

I have a great interest in and a little walking-around knowledge of the political process because I have spent a good part of my adult life dealing with the subject.

I also produce this weekly screed that runs from one end of the state (LaFayette) to the other (Folkston) and a lot of places in between. I haven’t run the numbers in a while, but I suspect I remain the most widely circulated columnist in the state. If not, I am pretty darned close.

Despite these two interesting factoids, I am pretty much out-of-sight and out-of-mind with a lot of our intrepid public servants under the Gold Dome (except the really astute ones). That is because I don’t spend a lot of time at the Capitol. That is a good thing for you.

Being at arm’s length gives me a different perspective as to what is going on under the Gold Dome, which brings me to my subject of the week: Updating Georgia’s antiquated adoption laws. Once again this session, the issue is being held hostage by the state Senate and, in my opinion, much of that is due to the fact that this is an election year and some of the principal players are running for higher office.

There is no question the state code needs updating. The last update was in 1990, due mainly to the efforts of a state senator by the name of Nathan Deal. Today, the average time for foster care adoption in Georgia is more than two-and-a-half years, or most than twice the time nationally.

Last year, a comprehensive adoption bill, sponsored by Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Cobb County, with input from the Georgia Council of Adoption Lawyers, the state Department of Family and Children Services, the Council of Superior Court Judges and a number of adoption agencies was sabotaged late in the legislative session by a group of state senators, led by state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, in a clumsy political effort to ensure mission-based adoption agencies did not have to place children with same-sex parents.

I said at the time and I say again, if this matter was of such concern to Ligon and others, it could have been addressed earlier in the session, instead of sneaked in at the last minute.

Fast-forward to this year. The same bill made its way through the House and when it got to the Senate, another bill, HB 359 was attached to it, a measure that among other things, gives a parent the power of attorney to transfer their child to a family member or a faith-based agency for a period not to exceed a year. Nice in concept maybe, but the problem is that this bill was vetoed last year by Gov. Deal, who called it an “unchecked system” that put children at risk. What is to say he won’t veto it again this year?

The effort this year to attach a previously vetoed bill onto the House bill is being pushed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who to most political observers, including me, is the lead horse in the race to replace Deal. I like Casey Cagle personally, but I don’t like what he is doing.

Lest I be misunderstood, write this down: I have less problem with his proposal than I do with his timing. He and his colleagues in the Senate have had a year to work this issue out with the House, as Gov. Deal had suggested they do in his veto message. At worst, Cagle could have introduced a separate measure to deal with his concerns while the state got its antiquated adoption code updated. Why wait until now and attach a potentially toxic measure to the House adoption bill? It’s the elections, stupid. Time to play up to your base. In this case, the “faith-based” crowd.

Cagle asserts the Senate is working on language modifications that will assuage Gov. Deal’s concerns. I am told that that effort isn’t as far along as Cagle claims. But, does it matter? If the governor again vetoes the bill and that in turn scuttles the update of the adoption code, Cagle can put the blame on the governor while taking credit for giving it the old college try.

Oh, and the 13,000 foster kids in Georgia awaiting adoption? Once again, they are pawns in a game of political posturing. You don’t have to spend a lot of time at the Gold Dome to understand that. What a pity.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at dick@dickyarbrough.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.