LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An Arkansas House panel on Tuesday endorsed a ban on some transfers of adopted children to unrelated families after a fellow lawmaker gave his adopted daughters to a man who later sexually assaulted one of them.
The proposal wouldn’t affect previous transfers, but it would criminalize future cases of “re-homing,” an informal term for giving an adopted child to an unrelated family without state oversight.
Rep. Justin Harris of West Fork was thrust into the national spotlight after a newspaper reported that he gave his two adopted daughters to the man when they were 3 and 5 years old. Harris has said the girls were a threat to his biological children and the man was a longtime family friend who had been approved for other adoptions.
Only a handful of states have enacted laws to regulate “re-homing,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Colorado and Wisconsin regulate the advertising of adopted children, while Louisiana and Florida have criminalized the transfer practice. Ohio has safeguards against trading money or goods in return for an adopted child.
Republican Rep. David Meeks of Conway and Democratic Rep. Greg Leding of Fayetteville both filed bills within two days after the news report about Harris. The lawmakers coordinated with Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson on the changes.
Neither mentioned Harris when addressing the House Judiciary Committee, but both bills call on the Department of Human Services to provide post-adoptive services that could help during difficult adoptions.
Harris previously said the department misinformed him about his options for dealing with the children - a charge that an agency spokeswoman said she isn’t allowed to address. She said the agency is aware of nine adopted children who were given to different parents during the past two years, but doesn’t actively track or police the practice.
Meeks’ bill would affect only children adopted internationally or domestically, meaning biological children could still be transferred to unrelated people. He said the bill is patterned after Louisiana’s, which is one of the toughest in the nation.
Someone who violates the proposed law could be imprisoned for up to five years and fined up to $5,000.
“We want to do what is in the best interest of the children and that’s what this bill does,” Meeks said.
Leding’s bill was approved when the committee reconvened in the afternoon. His proposal requires DHS to create post-adoptive services and provide them to parents.
There was no vocal opposition to either bill and both are headed to the House floor. Meeks and Leding said after the meetings that Harris supports their bills.
Harris, a Republican, resigned from two leadership posts Monday. His attorney said Tuesday that Harris does not plan to resign from the Legislature.
Hutchinson previously instructed the DHS to review its adoption protocols, and announced an independent review by his office during an unrelated news conference Tuesday.
“I think it’s timely under the current debate, but it would be timely under any circumstances,” Hutchinson said.
Spokesman J.R. Davis said Hutchinson will select someone from his office to take a broad look at how DHS is performing and implementing its policies. He declined to release other details about the review until a leader is selected but said that pick will be made “very quickly.”
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