SPONSOR: Steelman (Dougherty)

COMMITTEE ACTION: Voted "do pass" by the Committee on Children, Youth and Families by a vote of 11 to 4 with 1 present.

This substitute makes changes to various laws pertaining to adoption and foster care. In its main provisions, the substitute:

(1) Authorizes counties to establish children's services councils, which will assess children's needs and provide grants for services to address those needs;

(2) Creates the Scholarships for Foster Children Trust Fund in the state treasury to be administered by the Department of Higher Education. Subject to appropriations, the fund will provide scholarships to any former foster child who would have qualified for a federal Pell grant, but lost eligibility for the grant because he or she was adopted or had a permanent legal guardian appointed after the age of 13. The amount of the scholarship will be equal to the amount of the Pell grant the foster child would have received;

(3) Outlines the adoption education and promotion duties of the Division of Maternal, Child, and Family Health within the Department of Health, in conjunction with the Office of Women's Health and the Department of Social Services. A variety of materials may be made available to the public on the Internet and through the Department of Social Services, public health facilities, family planning clinics, child-placing agencies, and private physicians;

(4) Allows an adopted person 18 years of age or older born in Missouri to receive a certified copy of his or her original unaltered birth certificate from the state registrar upon written application;

(5) Changes the minimum age requirement from 50 to 45 years for participation by grandparents in the Grandparents as Foster Parents Program;

(6) Adds jail or detention center personnel, as defined, to the list of persons and professionals who are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect;

(7) Incrementally increases the reimbursement rate for the cost of foster care over a 3-year period until the rate equals or exceeds the foster care rates established by the United States Department of Agriculture, beginning in the 2002 fiscal year;

(8) Allows a parent to relinquish custody of a newborn child no more than 30 days old to a hospital without criminal liability for abandoning a child or endangering the welfare of a child if the child has not been physically abused. If this is done and pending court proceedings, all of the parent's rights are terminated, the child becomes a ward of the state and will be immediately available for adoption. The hospital will request the child's medical information and birth date from the parent and, if not provided, the Division of Family Services will attempt to obtain this information by identifying the parents. The hospital will be immune from liability for accepting the child and the state will reimburse the hospital for any expenses. The non-relinquishing parent of the child may file for custody within 30 days after the hospital takes the child and must prove parenthood;

(9) Prohibits race, color, or national origin from playing any role in child placement by deleting the word "solely" from the provision;

(10) Allows a child to be placed in a pre-approved adoptive home immediately upon execution of the required consents;

(11) Allows a court to issue an ex parte order 48 hours after a child's birth transferring temporary custody of the child to the prospective adoptive parents pending the full hearing if all other adoption requirements have been met and filed with the court;

(12) Allows adult siblings of adopted persons to participate in the registry maintained by the Division of Family Services through which birth parents and adopted adults may indicate their desire to be contacted by each other, and allows courts to directly disclose identifying information to adopted adults upon their written request if their biological parents or adult siblings have consented in writing to such disclosure; and

(13) Establishes the Missouri CASA Fund in the state treasury, to be funded by appropriations, gifts, contributions, grants, and other sources. The State Courts Administrator will administer and disburse the funds.

FISCAL NOTE: Estimated Net Cost to General Revenue Fund of $906,427 to Unknown in FY 2001, $14,851,982 to Unknown in FY 2002, $24,340,231 to Unknown in FY 2003. Estimated Net Effect on Scholarships for Foster Children Trust Fund of $0 in FY 2001, FY 2002, and FY 2003. Estimated Net Effect on Missouri CASA Fund of $0 in FY 2001, FY 2002, and FY 2003.

PROPONENTS: Supporters say that this bill helps promote adoption and foster care by educating the public about the adoption process and foster care programs. The bill also promotes adoption by providing immunity from criminal liability for a parent who relinquishes a newborn to a hospital rather than abandoning the newborn.

Testifying for the bill were Senators Steelman and Sims.

OPPONENTS: There was no opposition voiced to the committee.

Julie Jinkens McNitt, Legislative Analyst