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Louisiana lawmakers want to deter anyone who would cheat adoptive parents out of money under the guise of giving up a child, but some are concerned the penalties might lead to birth mothers being arrested for changing their mind.
After lengthy debate Monday, a bill was approved to expand what qualifies as adoption deception, a crime the Legislature added to Louisiana’s books last year. House Bill 568, sponsored by Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, cleared the House in a 64-36 vote that was mostly along party lines with the exception of Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, who votes with Republicans on most matters. The bill next heads to the Senate for consideration.
The change in the law would apply to a birth mother who intentionally lies in an effort to collect living expenses or other benefits in connection with a purported adoption. Under current law, adoption deception applies to only two circumstances: the guilty party pretends to be a birth mother but is not pregnant when she asks for or receives payments; or someone accepts payments from more than one prospective adoptive parent or agency at the same time without disclosing it.
“We’ve got case after case of parents who have lost tens of thousands of dollars because they went forth trying to adopt, paid everything they could pay, and some people… do the wrong thing,” Edmonds said.
Some lawmakers said existing fraud laws cover most circumstances of adoption deception. They fear the proposed addition could lead to abuse if adoption agencies and adoptive parents use it to pressure birth mothers who change their minds. Edmonds amended the bill to include an exception that states the provisions would not apply to someone who, in good faith, declines to proceed with the adoption in favor of parenting the child.
Rep. Joe Marino, I-Gretna, said he feels the exception would still not prevent a birth mother from being arrested or threatened with arrest if she changes her mind after receiving payments from a prospective family.
“Your amendment, what it does, it provides a defense to someone who’s already arrested and charged with a crime,” Marino said. “You still have to get arrested in order to try to show that you didn’t commit this crime.”
Edmonds said state law already provides adequate protection for birth mothers and ensures they have legal representation throughout the entire adoption process.
“Their rent is being paid, their electricity is being paid, their food is being paid, their medical bills are being paid, and there have been episodes multiple times of those that have on purpose, knowing the system… they scam the system,” Edmonds said.
The legislation narrowly advanced from the House Criminal Justice Committee in a 7-6 vote.
Rep. Marcus Bryant, D-New Iberia, said the bill could embolden prospective adoptive parents to make false allegations out of anger at a birth mother who changes her mind. The bill should be amended to allow for a post-birth investigative period before charges can be filed, he said. That way, Bryant explained, pregnant women are not jailed on allegations or pressured to sign adoption papers before the full facts of the case can be demonstrated.
“Now a parent who has already painted the room, bought the items, got the clothes, had the reveal party and everything else is being told they’re not going to have a child,” Bryant said. “That person is going to be the most heated, maddest person on earth. They’re going to do whatever and anything to get that child.”
Under current law, a person found guilty of adoption deception could face a maximum of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
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