Adoption advocates press Nixon to veto "foreign law' measure

Some advocates for adoptions want Gov. Jay Nixon to veto a proposed law delivered to his office last week.

"I think that the unintended consequences of this bill are farther-reaching than the intentions," Christine Corcoran of Columbia, regional operations director for Lutheran Family and Children's Services, told the News Tribune last week.

"It could adversely affect children who have been adopted from other countries."

And Michael P. Meehan, Ph.D., executive director of Good Shepherd Children & Family Services - part of St. Louis' Catholic Charities Federation - said: "The bill would appear to leave open to interpretation whether certain international adoptions would be considered final and valid in Missouri."

But the bill's chief advocate, state Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, thinks those "working against the bill are using dishonest tactics to influence whether the governor signs it."

Nieves' Senate Bill 267 would add a "Civil Liberties Defense Act" to Missouri's laws, saying the state's public policy is "to protect its citizens from the application of foreign laws, when the application of a foreign law will result in the violation of a right protected by the constitutions of the state of Missouri and the United States."

State senators passed the bill by a 24-9 margin on April 13 - with Democrats casting all the no votes.

The House approved the measure on May 8 by a 109-41 margin, with five Eastern Missouri democrats voting for the measure and only Democrats casting all the "no" votes.

Nixon isn't predicting what he'll do with the bill, spokeswoman Channing Ansley told the News Tribune.

"As he does with all legislation that comes to his desk, the Governor will give this bill a thorough review before making a determination," she wrote.

Corcoran acknowledged that Lutheran Family and Children's Services had not testified against Nieves' bill in committee hearings.

"This session there was so much proposed adoption legislation - and we don't have somebody at the Capitol every day," she explained.

"This bill did not even come across our radar (until) late in the session; we became aware of ... the potential harm it could be for inter-country adoption."

About three weeks ago, at a meeting of the Adoption and Foster Care Coalition of child-placing agencies, Corcoran said: "We voted, after a discussion of the bill, to send a letter to the governor requesting a veto."

LFCS also issued an "Advocacy Alert" to its supporters, including a note that the proposed law "bans judicial consideration of any body of law from outside of the United States. This potentially means that Missouri would not recognize the adoption decree completed in an adoptee's birth country.

"Without the adoption decree new adoptees may not be able to obtain an American birth certificate."

Nieves copied that alert on his own Facebook page, then said: "Looks like someone has lied to these good people who are trying to help families adopt! ... What a shame that groups like the ACLU would stand against this good piece of common sense legislation!"

Anthony Rothert, legal services director for the St. Louis-based ACLU of Eastern Missouri, acknowledged his group testified against Nieves' bill from the beginning.

"The general concept - that courts should not apply laws that are repugnant to our Constitution - is great," Rothert said in an interview. "We have a Constitution, and it (already) provides for that. So, to the extent that that's the goal, this is an unnecessary law."

Rothert cited the U.S. Constitution's "Supremacy" clause as the existing basis for blocking laws of other countries that are different from U.S. or state constitutions and laws.

The clause, in Article VI, says the "Constitution, and the Laws of the United States ... shall be the supreme Law of the Land," and requires all judges to enforce that.

Nieves said: "The bill's detractors ALL do the exact same thing - to act as if there is a period ".' after the word law! ... But in fact, it continues on to say, "if such law is repugnant to the U.S. or Missouri Constitution!'

"That last half of the sentence is the essence of the entire piece of legislation!"

No one said Nieves intended to create the problems the adoption community has with the proposed law.

But Meehan, of the Good Shepherd Children & Family Services, said: "There doesn't appear to be any specific language in the bill to ensure this. As such, this lack of clarity may dissuade families from considering an international adoption."

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey told reporters last week: "It doesn't say that we don't honor foreign laws ... (just) if the foreign law is repugnant to the Missouri or U.S Constitution, the judge needs to take that into account."