BOISE – What rights should an unmarried biological father have when the unmarried birth mother wants to put a baby up for adoption? What if he’s really just trying to make his ex-lover’s life miserable? And what about the father’s family, the baby’s biological grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins?
There were tears and sobs, there were lawyers, and there were sharp questions as Idaho’s House Judiciary Committee wrestled with those issues Wednesday. After a two-hour hearing, the panel unanimously rejected legislation drafted by Coeur d’Alene attorney Anne Solomon on behalf of a North Idaho family that unwillingly lost all contact with their son’s out-of-wedlock baby boy, who was adopted in Utah before the family could do anything to stop it.
Kerrin Tenneson told the panel her son was awarded custody in an Idaho court, but it was too late – a Utah family already had adopted the child and wouldn’t return him. “We really would’ve been a good family for this little baby boy,” Tenneson said.
Solomon’s 12-page bill would have required 30 days’ notice to the biological father and termination of his parental rights before an adoption could take place, along with other changes, including new requirements for a birth mother to identify the father and refrain from deceiving him about the pregnancy or her plans. Solomon said current law protects the mother’s privacy to the point that she can hide the whole thing from the father. “What we’re asking here is that the biological father be given notice of the decision to adopt,” she told the committee.
But Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, a lawyer who served on the task force that drafted adoption law reforms 10 years ago, said, “If there are good fathers out there, they should know they have a baby.” The reforms sought to make adoption easier, he said, by removing a “legal mess” that mothers otherwise could avoid by having an abortion.
Cameron Gilliland of the state Department of Health and Welfare’s Family and Community Services division said the department opposed the bill because it threatened to delay adoptions, possibly putting the state in violation of federal guidelines.
Labrador, who moved to kill the bill, said, “I think Ms. Solomon and in particular the Tenneson family brought up some issues that need to be discussed … but there are some problems with this bill that need to be addressed.” Solomon said she’ll work with legal professionals, Health and Welfare and others to craft a better version for next year.
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