Wednesday (February 20, 2013) I attended the Ohio House Judiciary Committee Sponsor’s Hearing for HB 61, which would restore the right of OBC access to Ohio adoptees born between January 1, 1964-September 17, 1996. Those born after that date currently have access at the age of 21 (at 18 their aparents can access), unless a birthparent has filed a Disclosure Veto with the state. Ohio Vital Statistics does not know how many DV’s are on file (!), but the number is probably minuscule Washington State, which has a similar law, reports only four DVs submitted since 1993, and all of them last year. Lawyer dirty tricks?
Senate Bill, 23 is HB61’s companion bill. . Both have bi-partisan support. Ohio Right to Life, opposed for decades to OBC access for 1964-1996s, due to its belief that access to those old records would compromise “the state’s promise of anonymity” in adoption; thus causing women to seek abortions now, has dropped its opposition. ORTL President Mike Gonidakis told the press recently, “Historically, Ohio Right to Life has opposed efforts to disclose identities of birth parents.That position has thawed, for lack of a better term..” Goindakis credits the Internet with some of the change saying that “you can find out information that you couldn’t in the past.” (paid access, Columbus Dispatch, January 27, 2013).
As of this writing, HB61 has 23 sponsors and the Senate Bill has 12. Lead sponsors of HB 63 are Rep. Dorothy Pelanda (R-Marysville), an adoption attorney and adoptive mother and Rep Nickie J Antonio (D-Lakewood), a birth aunt. Rep Antonio’s sister and her son were reunited several years ago through a search done by Adoption Network Cleveland. Now that ORTL has dropped opposition, many of the General Assembly’s staunchest anti-aborts, including anti-abortion heavyweight Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, have signed on as co-sponsors Likewise, ORTL stalwarts Sen Bill Seitz and Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) co-sponsor on the Senate side. (Sen Bill Beagle (R- Tipp City)) and Sen. Dave Burke (R-Marysville) are lead sponsors). With anti-abort support I believe the bill(s) has a good chance of passage. So far there is no public opposition.
Rep. Pelanda and Antonio each addressed the Judiciary Committee.. They pulled on their combat boots.focusing strictly on the legal aspects of OBC access. Only a drop or two of Primal Wound oozed out, but was quickly staunched. Pelanda focused on the legalities of access while Antonio dealt with the details of the bill, calling it a direct mechanism to OBC access that contained parity and fairness. The Judiciary Committee for the most part seemed to be bothered by the ridiculous and hideous three-tier system.
Frankly, I was surprised at the presentation.. I’ve attended OBC hearings in Ohio, California, Massachusetts New Hampshire and Maine (and listened to others on the ‘net) and testified in all but California, and I’ve never attended a hearing so devoid of PWing, medical .history angst, and poor-little-me whinging. Past Ohio hearings held in the Health Committee, and have been particularly painful.with witnesses dismissed like naughty children. The Judiciary Committee was a whole new ballgame; members showed respect, were well-prepped, and showed genuine interest in what was being said.. Pelenda and Antonio kept focused on rights and equal treatment and how adoption really works, not how people think it does..
For the most part members remained on track, not derailed by the therapeutic yabber that bogs down records debate. Some concern was raised on how the law, if passed, would be advertised. to the public (Me: Q: how are changes in other laws advertised? A: They’re not.) and how the Contact Preference Form, would be distributed to birthparents. One member voiced concern over about how OBC access would pertain to donor insemination (it doesn’t). Another, of course, worried over “birthmother privacy rights.” Rep Pelanda, clapping on her adoption lawyer hat, explained quite carefully adoption processes and paperwork, and that no legal “promises of confidentiality” could ever have been made to birthparents. She assured the committee that a review of relinquishment papers taken from various Ohio Probate Courts backed her up. (Educational packets yet to be distributed to the House will contain details and documents.) Pelanda (I think) added that no “side deals” had ever been legal. Of course, we’ve been saying all this for years, but the committee seemed to sit up and take notice when it came from an adoption attorney who has no proverbial ax to grind, like we must.
Of course, the sticking point with HB61/SB23, is the retention of already on-file vetoes and veto language post-1996. I can’t tell you how many activists and legal experts in the field I’ve discussed this with , and nobody can come up with any hopeful conclusion. DV language was new territory for activists in the early 1990s and for some reason no one seemed to grasp the legal consequences then for future bastards or legislation. But, it is unconscionable that 20 years later veto restrictions are still being pimped as something new (New Jersey, Missouri, and the new Washington House bill come to mind) when we’ve proven in five states (not to mention Kansas and Alaska where records were never sealed) that clean bills can be passed with little controversy and no “social disruption.”.
Unfortunately, those in-place vetoes stand as a legal agreement between the state and birthparent(s) to keep the OBCs of a handful sealed–an agreement which simply did not exist before under a general sealed records system, which made no promises or addressed future changes in law and custom. The DV creates a special right for a tiny number of parents that no other individual, including a parent, enjoys: the right to bar the release of a birth certificate to the person to whom it pertains. Why is this still permissible?
If Ohio abolishes its three–tired system of OBC access, a tiny number of adoptees will continue to be sealed and screwed, and no amount of well-intentioned legislation can fix that. To be honest, I can’t imagine the Ohio Legislature triggering a lawsuit by attempting to vacate vetoes already in place, and re-writing the 1996 law is not in the purview of the current biill(s). The only remedy that any of us see for Ohio at this point is legal action filed by the adoptee at 21 or his or her adoptive parents at the age of 18. We can holler all we want, but we have no standing.
A joint news release on HB61 by Pelenda and Antonio is here.
The next hearing will be held at 3 PM on March 6, Room 122, Statehouse.