Adoption fraud bill in limbo after testy hearing

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A proposed bill that would give the state's Office of Licensing greater ability to sanction adoption agencies that engage in fraudulent practices is still alive, but just barely.

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, plans to rework SB183 after the proposal received sharp criticism from several colleagues on the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice standing committee. The committee moved to its next agenda item Tuesday after a nearly hour long debate without taking action on the bill.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, pointedly trashed the bill and a presentation by attorney Wes Hutchins, who has represented numerous biological fathers in disputed adoptions. Weiler, an attorney, said SB183 would expose every adoption in Utah to a greater risk of litigation and thus expense, and was unnecessary because the licensing office already has authority to sanction unethical agencies.

Ken Stettler, director of the Office of Licensing, said about one-quarter of the 36 adoption agencies in Utah have been the subject of actionable complaints, which can range from issuing corrective action plans to revoking a license. He said there have been six instances in the past decade where a complaint eventually led to hearing before an administrative law judge but did not say whether the state had ever revoked an agency's license.

Sen. Stephen H. Urquhart, R-St. George, said the bill was overly broad, did not adequately define fraud and suggested a better approach would be to change Utah law to recognize paternity notices filed by biological fathers in other states.