This is the legislative summary of HB 2082 passed by the Hawaii legislature and signed into law by Governor David Ige on June 23, 2016, effective immediately. No ifs, ands or buts. All parties affected by an adoption can access the court records just for the asking. They don't have to have a good reason--or any reason at all.
They don't have to implore a stern judge, "Please, please, I have cancer and need to know my family's medical history." No delays to give "birth" mothers the opportunity to opt out which legislators in Illinois, Washington, and other states thought necessary to protect mothers from their shame, i.e. their child.
How did this law come about? The same way all reform legislation comes about--through the diligence of those impacted; in this case Jeffery Guillemette, who just wanted to know the woman who gave birth to him; the commitment of a legislator, Mike Gabbard; the support of local and national organizations including the Adoption Circle of Hawai'i; and a snowballing trend to open records in all states.
Twenty-two states now allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates with restrictions and more are sure to follow in the next few years--even the biggies like New York since one of the major opponents, former House Speaker Sheldon Silver, has been found guilty of corruption.*
Adoptee access to birth certificates--allowing them to know their original identities--is only the first step to transparency in adoption. Court records, which Hawaii opened, provide adoptees more information about their birth family, and information about their adoptive parents as well. Since natural mothers are also granted access to the adoption and court records, the impact of this law cannot be overstated: These records give natural parents the name of the adoptive parents and the legal name of their child, often essential for mothers to find their lost child.
My own state, Oregon, passed a law effective in 2014 giving adoptees access to most, but not all, of their court records. The law gives mothers access to court records also, but it requires the mother to obtain a court order signed by a judge although the judge must sign the order uless the judge finds a good reason not to sign -- most unlikely. The law also denies records to mothers who lost their child through the state child welfare system. Colorado too has moved beyond merely giving adoptees their original birth certificates--a major breakthrough by itself--but the state also allows natural mothers to obtain their child's amended birth certificate and copies of all documents they signed. The victories these new laws give first/natural mothers represent is astounding, considering that in most states legislators are still claim they must "protect" these women from being contacted by their own children, now grown.
With almost half the states giving most adoptees access to their original birth certificates--though all but ten with restrictions--and Hawaii blazing a trail to fully open records, there's no going back. In a few years, closed records will be a curiosity, much as Madmen appears to the younger generation.
Maahalo nui loa Hawaii! You may be the 50th State, but you're number ONE when it comes to opening adoption records.
And Happy 4th of July to everyone, particular our readers in the Aloha state for whom Independence Day has taken on a special meaning.--jane
*Silver is appealing his conviction and remains free on bail at this writing. A recent Supreme Court decision regarding a former governor of Virginia, Robert McConnell, also convicted of corruption, may work in Silver's favor to have his 12-year-sentence lifted as well as his conviction overturned.
We hope not.
For a copy of the law, forms, and other information see Adoption Circle of Hawai'i.
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