Dear Honorable Assemblymember:
Bastard Nation: the Adoptee Rights Organization is the largest adoptee civil rights organization in North America. We advocate for the full human and civil rights of adult adoptees. We believe people everywhere have a right to their unaltered and unfalsifed birth records. This means opening government documents pertaining to the adoptee’s historical, genetic, and legal identity, including the unaltered original birth certificate (obc) and adoption decree. Our membership includes adopted adults and first and adoptive parents. We have substantial membership in California.
BN was behind the 1998 Oregon Ballot Measure 58 which restored the right of the state’s adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates. In 2000 Bastard Nation sponsored legislation in Alabama which restored access there. In 2004 we worked in a coalition of adoptee rights advocates in New Hampshire where adoptee civil rights were restored on January 1, 2005. We are currently working in other states to restore records access. Bastard Nation leaves no one behind. We do not support legislation that restricts even one adopted person from receiving his or her own information.
Bastard Nation does not support AB 372. Our submitted testimony is in the official Assembly Judiciary legislative analysis.
AB 372 is not a true equal access bill. It continues to treat adopted persons differently than the not-adopted, which effects costs and appropriations.
Instead of opening access to birth records, the proposal subjects California adoptees to egregious new restrictions on that access which do not exist under current law. AB 372 contains a disclosure veto which gives birthparents, whose parental rights were terminated years before, a new and special right that no other parent has: the right to stop release of the original birth certificate upon request, to her or his offspring. AB 372 creates a state bureaucracy to track down birthparents to inform them of that new and special right and to seek their written consent for release. AB 372 contains an opt-out clause that would permit one or both birthparents in the future the even newer and more special right to deny obc access to their adult offspring for reasons of “rape.” “incest,” “religion” or undefined “personal reasons.” AB 372 is about as far away from a real records access bill as California is from Bulgaria.
As if the bill weren’t bad enough, AB 372 has now been amended by the sponsor Assb. Fiona Ma with a proposed fiscal note/fiscal effect of $16,000,000 for the first two years and a projected $2,000,000 each year thereafter. This outrageous amount is allegedly for “start-up” costs–$8,000,000 for the first year: the creation of a new database and hiring of 34 staff to “man” the tech and administrative bureaucracy to track down birthparents (usually women) at a “best match address” (whatever that means), through certified or registered mail, to get consent for release.
How this snipe hunt is to be accomplished has not been revealed. Last known address of parents taken from records 30, 40, 50 years or older? Google? Intelius? Social Security records? Paid, privately operated databases? Will California access other states’ private governmental records if the search turns up empty at home? (We doubt it!) Does the state intend to contract out searches to secrecy-obsessed adoption agencies, for-profit adoption searchers, or private investigators? How about talking to snoopy neighbors and tracking down rumors?
Who is to foot millions for this murky state snooping project: already burdened taxpayers who are currently facing curtailment of crucial state services or adoptees who have committed no crime other than to have been born and sealed in California? Both are unacceptable.
The justification for this outrageous expense is based on a strange and erroneous extrapolation of data from Oregon where obcs were unsealed in 1999.
The Oregon law, passed by a 1998 ballot initiative, contains only a voluntary non-binding, contact preference form, no disclosure veto or other veto, and the state does not track down women to seek consent for release. If there were an initial cost involved in implementing Oregon’s law, it was because of the 18 month legal battle which went all the way to the US Supreme Court (denied cert) to keep records sealed and the ensuing backlog of thousands of uncompleted requests that accumulated during the time when the law was in abeyance.
The fact is, states that have unsealed obcs—Oregon, Alabama, New Hampshire, Maine—have not incurred any significant cost (if any) in re-opening and distributing obcs to adoptees upon request. They treat adoptee requests for their birth certificates just like they treat not-adopted requests. There is no extra cost. Neither taxpayers nor adoptees are dunned an extraordinary fee nor treated like potential criminals.
A true equal access bill is about the right of the adopted to own a simple piece of paper– their own birth certificate– not search and reunion. What any person, adopted or not adopted, does with that piece of paper is her or his business, not the state’s. Yet AB 372, by the mere fact that it mandates search for consent, is a reunion bill that makes the State of California and its taxpayers the broker of personal and family relationships. This kind of state intrusion has no business being part of civil rights discourse much less law.
Adoptees, their rights, and their records are not part of a California economic stimulus package. The best thing to do with AB 372 is deep six it. Fast.
California needs to clear this abomination out of the way to open the path for a real equal access bill that treats all California adoptees as full responsible citizens who are grown up enough to own their own birth certificates, Just give adoptees their obcs without state interference or extraordinary cost to anybody. The taxpayers will thank you. And adoptees will, too. Please vote DO NOT PASS on AB 372.
Marley Greiner, Executive Chair, Bastard Nation