- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Senate unanimously approved measures Thursday banning the informal transfer of adopted children known as “re-homing” - proposals prompted by a lawmaker who gave away his adopted daughters to a man who later admitted to sexually assaulting one of them.

With no debate, senators approved a proposal criminalizing the practice of giving an adopted child to an unrelated family without state oversight and another proposal that the state create new services for parents after they adopt. Both bills passed 34-0.

The bills were proposed after the Arkansas Times newspaper reported that Republican Rep. Justin Harris of West Fork gave his adopted daughters to a longtime family friend and her husband in 2013. The husband later admitted to sexually abusing one of the girls.

“It’s not just because of the representative. … That started it, but what we’re looking at is how we can stop this from happening,” Democratic Sen. Bobby Pierce of Sheridan, who co-sponsored the ban, said after the vote.

Harris, who voted for the measures when they went before the House last week, declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, who didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The “re-homing” ban, which heads back to the House for a final vote, makes the practice felony punishable by prison and a $5,000 fine. The ban would not be retroactive, so it wouldn’t criminalize previous transfers such as Harris’. The measure would affect only adopted children, meaning biological children could still be transferred to non-relatives. Parents would also still be able to give adopted children to family members.

A lawmaker expressed concern earlier this week that the measure didn’t require any kind of background check for family members if a child was transferred to them. Pierce said the Legislature would likely need to revisit that issue in two years.

“Neither one of them was perfect, but they’re better than what we had,” Pierce said.

The adoption services bill heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk. Hutchinson has said he’ll sign both measures into law. That would make Arkansas the sixth U.S. state to regulate the transfer of adopted children, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The state would join Louisiana, which provided inspiration for the Arkansas law, as having some of the toughest laws in the nation.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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