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Senate Backs Adoption Incentives; Repeals Gay Adoption Ban

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - After an impassioned debate, the Florida Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would restore a popular adoption-subsidies program --- while repealing a 38-year-old law that banned gay adoption.

By a vote of 27-11, senators passed the measure (HB 7013), which would provide cash incentives to state workers who adopt children in Florida's foster-care system, especially children with special needs.

Restoring adoption subsidies --- which were dropped in 2009, during the economic downturn --- was part of the "Work Plan 2015" jointly announced in January by Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. The bill would provide $5,000 payments to government workers who adopt foster children, with the payments increasing to $10,000 for the adoption of children with special needs.

Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who shepherded the bill through the Senate, said that "of the 852 foster children who are available for adoption now, 767 are special-needs children, and three-fourths of those children have been waiting longer than 12 months for adoption."

But the bill the Senate passed Tuesday also included an unanticipated and controversial provision, added by the House last month, that Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, called a "poison pill" --- legal protection for gay adoption.

Florida's ban on gay adoption essentially ended in 2010, when an appeals court ruled against it, but it remains in law. Last week Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, tried to amend the adoption-subsidies bill to keep the ban in place, but the Senate --- led by Gaetz --- voted down her measure.

Now Gov. Rick Scott will have to decide whether keeping the ban in law is worth killing the adoption incentives. A Scott spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who voted against the bill, took issue with the House move to add the gay-adoption repeal to the incentives bill.

"This is a valid issue," Lee said of the debate about the ban. "It should stand alone," adding that it shouldn't "hijack a piece of legislation that was supposed to be a feel-good moment for this Legislature and divide senators."

Gaetz agreed that the term "hijacked" was a fair description. However, he said, "If I thought for one minute that I was imperiling the welfare or the upbringing or the life of any child with anything in this bill, I'd lead the floor fight against it. But there is no evidence anywhere, by anybody, that anything in this bill will do anything other than give children a chance for their dreams to come true."

Lee also pointed out that the House had passed a related measure (HB 7111) affording what it calls "conscience protection" to private adoption agencies whose religious or moral convictions prevent them from placing children with gay parents. It would protect the agencies from losing their licenses or state funding if they refuse to facilitate adoptions on religious or moral grounds.

"That conscience clause ought to be here now," Lee said. "We're putting the cart before the horse."

Backers of the "conscience-protection" clause contend that private agencies such as Catholic Charities and the Florida Baptist Children's Home would stop performing adoptions rather than violate their religious convictions by allowing gays to adopt. The House conscience-protection bill is heading for the Senate, where, Lee predicted, "it's going in a ditch."

But Gaetz said he was unconvinced that it would make much difference if private adoption agencies give up placing children due to a change in the law.

Gaetz said he'd consulted the head of Lutheran Social Services. The senator recounted the conversation in which he said he was told, "Don, we Lutherans follow the law. And when the law said that same-sex adoptions were illegal in Florida, we followed the law. But when the 3rd District Court of Appeals struck it down and declared that prohibition unconstitutional, then now we follow the law. And therefore we participate in adoptions to single people, and we know doggone well that some of those single people are in same-sex relationships."

Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican who has been the author of a number of bills dealing with foster care, said she was "thrilled" to vote for Gaetz's measure.

"One of the things I heard in committee years ago was: The purpose is not to find a child for every family, it's to find a family for every child," she said. "And I think your legislation does that."

"The News Service of Florida's Margie Menzel contributed to this report."


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