Legislature votes to allow adopted people access to original birth certificates

Staff Report

BATON ROUGE – The Senate gave final passage last week to a bill that would allow adopted people 24 years of age or older to obtain their original birth certificates.

Rep. Charles Owen, R-Fort Polk, who was himself adopted, authored House Bill 450 to grant adoptees the same right to know where they came from as any other resident of Louisiana.

Under present law enacted in 1977, an adopted person's original birth certificate is sealed after a final decree of adoption and can only be opened by a court order.

The bill, which the Senate approved 29-5, would create a simpler process, allowing an adopted person to request a copy of his or her original birth certificate from the state registrar without the costly burden of going to court.

Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, said that the legislation was important to those who have lived their lives trying to find more about where they came from.

State Sen. Rick Ward

​​"It's completely unjust and unfair for the child that is born 24 years later to have to continue to wonder where they come from," Ward said. "So, I believe there's a way to do this and thread the needle to where anybody, no matter the circumstances, would have the ability to find out where they came from, who they are, and also be able to do so without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money."

Much of the concern about the bill was that it did not respect the wishes of birth mothers who did not want to be contacted.

An amendment added earlier in the House would allow a birth mother to file a contact preference form included in an adoptee's request for the original birth certificate specifying whether they wanted to be contacted.

However, Ward acknowledged that although a birth mother may express her preference not to be contacted, the adopted person still has the discretion to make contact.

Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, on the fence about the bill, said it was one of the most difficult decisions he had encountered.

"There are not any answers, there are not any experts, there's not any data that tells us we need to vote for sure this way or that way," Luneau said. "And that's what's made it so difficult."

Luneau offered two additional amendments to the bill to allow a birth mother to remain anonymous.

The first, if requested, would permanently seal the birth certificate if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, and the other would redact the names of the birth parents from the birth certificate.

Both amendments were rejected.

President Pro Tempore Beth Mizell, R-Folsom, said she never knew her father and supported the bill's aim to give adopted people the right to learn more about themselves.

"We're so busy defending the woman, and you know, as a woman, I appreciate that, but we have this person who's carrying all the baggage for whatever happened that deserves to know where they came from," Mizell said.