Petition update

Governor Cuomo Team Receives and Reviews Our Appeal for “CLEAN” Adoption Reform

Tim Monti-Wohlpart
Brooklyn, NY

Jul 9, 2017 — Friends of “CLEAN” adoption reform,

On Friday (7/7), I had the privilege of meeting with senior and key support staff from Governor Cuomo’s Office of Constituency Affairs. The purpose: to deliver our petition, including the letter at the bottom of this update, along with your outstanding comments. And to discuss the details of our ongoing appeal for Governor Cuomo to stand with us. To make human and civil rights history with the following two actions:

1. VETO of A5036-B / S4845-B:
It is regressive, expensive and unacceptable. The bill “Actions” status remains “returned to Assembly.” This is a clerical step prior to transmittal to the Governor, which has yet to occur.
http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=A05036&term=2017

2. Support for S5169-A / A6821-A:
The New York Bill of Adoptee Rights. Adult adoptees deserve equal rights, with unrestricted access to original birth certificates. The bill remains in the Assembly and Senate Health Committees. It may advance when the legislature is slated to convene in January 2018.
http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=S05169&term=2017

JULY 7TH MEETING HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDED:

1. The human and civil rights imperative for “clean” reform (S5169-A / A6821-A).

2. The diverse and large number of New Yorkers affected: We estimate that there are 647,960 sealed adoption records in New York State. Unrestricted access is the humane choice we must provide to adult adoptees. This, in turn, will enhance the lives of families that adoptees create, and, thus, every following generation who will have the option learn origins and properly seek medical history.

3. How A5036-B / S4845-B would:
A. Discriminate against New York adoptees personally. It would continue the denial of equal rights and, in fact, further curtail them from current law. As Governor Cuomo said on June 25th, “…we have no tolerance for discrimination or stereotypes of any New Yorker, for any reason, manner, shape or form, period. And that is the great tradition of the State of New York.”
B. Discriminate against New York adoptees financially. Adoptees would continue to be burdened with court filing fees and bureaucracy.
C. Waste all New Yorkers’ taxpayer funds via Department of Health adult adoptee birth parent searches. Specifically, we advised of our still unanswered suggestion to senior staff of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in May 2016, to “quantify likely taxpayer savings of “CLEAN” reform.” In fact, under the proposal we support (S5169-A / A6821-A) adoptees would pay a nominal fee for original birth certificates just like all non-adopted New Yorkers. Still, we discussed that the “Memo” in the unacceptable bill (A5036-B / S4845-B) purports that there will be no “fiscal implications for state and local governments.” This, of course, is false.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW?
1. This petition continues! Please keep sharing!
2. Our appeal advances for review with the legislative and legal counsel teams for Governor Cuomo
3. We will provide Constituency Affairs with follow up items, confirm review timeline, learn of potential next steps and keep you posted!
4. Let’s continue politely contacting Governor Cuomo to VETO A5036-B / S4845-B and support S5169-A / A6821-A.
https://www.governor.ny.gov/content/governor-contact-form

518-474-8390

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

We remain honored for your support.

Below you may find our current letter to Governor Cuomo!

Tim, Doris and Jennifer

OUR CURRENT PETITION LETTER TO GOVERNOR CUOMO: (POLITELY BEGIN WITH YOUR OWN STORY OR THOUGHTS IF YOU CHOOSE TO ADD THE FOLLOWING TO YOUR LETTER)

We, the supporters of this human and civil rights petition ( https://www.change.org/p/advance-clean-ny-bill-of-adoptee-rights ), feel very strongly that New York will benefit from a “clean,” New York Law of Adoptee Rights (S5169-A / A6821-A). “Clean” reform will allow all adult adoptees to gain unrestricted access to their original birth certificates.

WE RESPECTFULLY ASK:

1. VETO, and actively reject, A5036-B / S4845-B:
This bill "relates to adoptee rights” but, in fact, would deny adoptees any new rights to access information about their origins. Even legislators who have reluctantly voted in the affirmative openly admit, in floor debates in both houses, that it is poor legislation. It maintains a judicial structure, adds an intermediary function to the Department of Health and increases the ways adult adoptees will be infantilized and denied access to vital information. It masquerades as a "first step forward" and is really a discriminatory leap backward. From a practical standpoint, it is fiscally wasteful and was never vetted through any legislative hearing. It has failed to win the support of any major organizations or adoption reform groups.

2. Support, and actively advance, S5169-A / A6821-A:
This is the "clean" New York Bill of Adoptee Rights. The 2015 – 2016 forerunner companion bills (A2901 / S3314) garnered, before amendment to A2901, over 80 cosponsors in the Assembly and 28 in the Senate, including the Senate Majority Leader! The new companion bills, S5169-A / A6821-A, will, as widely intended in the legislature, restore the right to obtain original birth certificates for adult adoptees. It pursues equal human and civil rights policy based on well supported logic, research and best practices. It is economically sound and similar policy in other states has, for decades, been politically successful and able to withstand legal challenge. Its merit, and pertinence to New York, was well established at the January 2014 Assembly Health Committee hearing on adoptee rights. It has gained support from major organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, The Child Welfare League of America, the North American Council on Adoptable Children and the Donaldson Adoption Institute, just to name just a few.

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS A5036-B / S4845-B WOULD DISCRIMINATE AGAINST ADOPTEES?

Under present law, adoptees may gain access to their original birth certificates via rarely granted court orders. A tiny minority in the Assembly mistakenly suggest these court orders are granted with regularity. From this overtly false premise, they then argue that no reform is necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth as court orders are rarely granted and the need for reform is imperative. Yet, under A5036-B / S4845-B, the law would become even more stringent. Birth parents, who were never offered life-long anonymity, nor do they want it over 95% of the time, would, even though they surrendered all parental rights, receive the new right to have the adult adoptees’ original birth certificates redacted. And, if the birth parents do not respond or cannot be located via the expensive 120-day state quest to locate them, then the judges will retain the “discretion” to redact anyway. Where there are two identified birth parents, and only one requests confidentiality, the release of the other birth parent’s information would, amazingly, also be subject to the discretion of the court. As such, we may surmise that even birth parents who want to share their names may, at the end of the day, be blocked from doing so. Note that the judges went on record in January 2014 opposing adoptee access based primarily on the “debunked” premise of past promises of confidentiality in the law and on surrender forms. So, it’s not challenging to see how court “discretion” might play out.

UNRESTRICTED ACCESS IN THE UNITED STATES AND ELSEWHERE:

Many other nations, including England, Australia and Israel, offer adoptees access to their original birth certificates and/or adoption records. As of 2016, nine other U.S. states offer unrestricted access to the original birth certificates for adult adoptees. Seven of the nine states enacted “clean” reform (Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Rhode Island). The other two states, Alaska and Kansas, never sealed adult adoptee birth certificates.

MULTI-PARTISAN SUPPORT FOR “CLEAN” REFORM NOW:

A growing number of our legislators, across all party lines, now see the importance of getting adoption reform right the first time. Notable examples include, but are not limited to:
• Independent Democratic Conference: Tony Avella, prime sponsor
• Democratic: Bobby Carroll, prime cosponsor. His statement from the Assembly floor:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgOCb3stS_o
• Republican: Dean Murray, who we welcome as a new cosponsor to A6821-A. On the floor of the Assembly, after hearing from many supporters of this petition, he said:

“What surprised me was every single one of these emails, every single one of these messages I got, they begged me to please vote no on this [A5036-B / S4845-B]. As much as— as I said, I’m a cosponsor of the bill [A5036-B / S4845-B] and I recognize what we’re trying to do, but when we have the people we’re trying to help reaching out begging, saying please vote no on this, I’m going to have to vote in the negative on this bill . . .

Now it’s my turn to beg. I’m going to beg and I’m going to plead the [Democratic] majority leadership to let the other bill move forward [S5169-A / A6821-A]. Let the bill move forward that is going to deliver what [adoptees] really want and need.”

We feel that comments such as these had the vital effect of reframing the debate away from the two false notions that either (a) A5036-B / S4845-B is an acceptable first step or (b) a vote in the negative on A5036-B / S4845-B can be automatically construed as opposition to adoptee rights in general. To be clear, neither of these ideas is true.

BENEFITS OF A "CLEAN" NEW YORK LAW OF ADOPTEE RIGHTS WILL INCLUDE:

1. Protection of health for many New Yorkers:

Direct access to original birth certificates will provide quicker, equal opportunity to confirm medical information, facilitate proper treatment and, in some cases, save the lives of adult adoptees and their families, who, by extension, are also denied rights with sealed records and regressive proposals. This human rights imperative alone would justify immediate action to support and advance the “clean” bill now. And it would be consistent with current state and national initiatives to extend healthcare to all. Anything less is tantamount to treating adoptees, who we estimate to be 3.34% of our population (647,960 sealed records), as though they have a pre-existing condition (being adopted) that would prevent them from gaining equal opportunity to seek appropriate healthcare, which begins with direct access to vital records and information. This would be an issue even if adult adoptees or minor adoptees, with help of adoptive parents, gain an option to request updated medical history at any time.

2. Saved money:

Unrestricted access to original birth certificates, which can allow for a non-binding birth parent contact preference form (but not a judicial or intermediary structure with redactions) is virtually free of charge to the state. In fact, adoptees would pay a nominal fee just like all other non-adopted New Yorkers, including those who "age out" and leave foster care as adults. However, the proposed employment of a bureaucratic, multi-department system (A5036-B / S4845-B) will slow court business and overburden the Department of Health whose main priority extends far beyond adoption. It will discriminate against adoptees, who will continue to be saddled with court filing costs, and require needless waste of taxpayer funds that could be better spent on other initiatives.

3. Progressiveness that is legally sound, achievable and effective:

New York, which considers itself a progressive state in general, has an opportunity to make a progressive, equality for all, statement on adoption reform, like the nine other unrestricted access states. Research has shown that unrestricted access provides orderly, beneficial results for all parts of the adoption triad (adoptees, birthparents and adoptive parents), and even suggests that the rate of adoptions will increase.

• Court of appeal upheld Oregon ballot initiative:
http://www.americanadoptioncongress.org/pdf/Does_vOregonDecisionOr_CtApp.pdf

• Oregon statistics, for example, reflect national findings that a vast majority of birthparents are open to contact:
http://public.health.oregon.gov/BirthDeathCertificates/GetVitalRecords/Pages/58update.aspx#05312010

• Potential to raise adoption rate in any state:
http://www.americanadoptioncongress.org/reform_adoption_data.php

4. Saved time:

New York’s resolution to proceed with unrestricted access will help ensure that the adoptees of New York, and their families, will be presented with a beneficial remedy to 1930s health laws that have failed our adopted citizens. Fragmentation of adoptee rights, or enacting a regressive proposal, will require that we continue to fight in Albany for the changes we have supported for over two decades, since reform was introduced to the legislature. We will not give up until Albany does what is necessary to fully honor our legal, civil and human rights in a complete and proper way.

NEW YORK CAN LEAD THE WAY FORWARD:

It is a hardship of unacceptable proportions to expect New York adoptees to tolerate the inadequacies of alternative, even regressive, proposals (A5036-B / S4845-B). Nor would it be fair to presume that we, adoptees of New York, are inherently insensitive to the worthy aims of compromise in cases where intent of proposed legislation can be preserved (S5169-A / A6821-A). We believe New York understands that it is the adopted child—who becomes an adult—that was supposed to be the primary beneficiary of adoption, not either set of parents.

On so many issues, for so long, New York has exercised, not the charity, but the wisdom to live up to its motto of "Excelsior” (ever upward). In the context of adoption reform, unrestricted access to original birth certificates for adult adoptees is how the Empire State will fulfill its long tradition of equality in a way that will make history and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of our citizens. New Yorkers will benefit and, thus, New York will benefit. This will resonate across the United States and around the world.

Please veto / reject A5036-B / S4845-B and support / advance S5169-A / A6821-A, the New York Bill of Adoptee Rights.

Thank you for your consideration.


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