It’s been quite a busy week here in New Jersey for legislators and those with a stake in adoption-related laws.
Two bills — which for many years have floundered at various stages of the legislative process — have each made a substantial leap forward, and hold more hope than ever for adoptees seeking open access to their birth records, and new adoptive parents seeking paid time off to care for and bond with their new family member.
The state Senate approved S-611, a bill that would allow adoptees to obtain their original birth records — and therefore their medical histories and heritage — which currently are sealed under New Jersey law.
Adoptees at least 18 years old or the adoptive parents of a child would be able to petition the state registrar for an original birth certificate listing the biological parents’ names.
Birth parents would have one year after the bill takes effect to request their name and address remain confidential. Those seeking to do that, however, would be required to provide a health and cultural history every 10 years until they turn 40, and every five years after that.
Despite the bill’s decades-long battle, the Senate voted 31-7 to approve it without any discussion! The Assembly version of the bill is before its Human Services Committee.
Sen. Joseph Vitale, the bill’s sponsor, said after the vote, “Through this legislation, we’ve taken pains to balance the needs of adopted individuals to know with the needs of certain birth parents to maintain anonymity. For New Jersey’s adopted residents, this bill is about fairness, giving them the same opportunity to know where they come from as non-adopted people.”
Paid family leave in New Jersey — which includes those having just adopted a child — is now also considerably closer to reality than ever before. The bill, S-786 — which has had its share of tweaking over the last few months, beginning as a 12-week plan, later reduced to a 10-week program, and stands now as six weeks’ leave — was approved 22-16 by the state Senate.
The full Assembly will consider the bill in the coming weeks and, considering it’s a bill generally favored by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, it should do well in the heavily Democratic Assembly. Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said he will sign the bill.
This would make New Jersey the third state to allow workers to take paid leave to care for a sick family member or a newly adopted child. Since 2004, California has allowed workers up to six weeks paid leave, and as of October 2009, Washington will allow workers five weeks’ paid leave.
New Jersey’s program would be funded through an estimated $33 a year per employee, taken through payroll deductions. Those taking the leave would receive two-thirds of their salary, up to $502 weekly.
The video of all the proceedings is here — click the March 3 session — about 90 minutes of debate and then the vote on the paid family leave legislation, and then a very fast vote (less than one minute!) on the open records bill.