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Rick Scott signs bill that repeals gay-adoption ban in Florida

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It took him awhile, but Florida Gov. Rick Scott today signed HB 7013, an adoption bill that offers financial incentives for qualifying employees of state agencies who adopt a child from the child welfare system. The measure would provide $5,000 payments to government workers who adopt foster children, with the payments increasing to $10,000 for adopting children with special needs.

It also awards incentive payments to community-based care lead agencies (CBCs) and their subcontractors for achieving specified adoption performance standards.

But what will dominate the headlines is that the bill also repeals the 1977 law banning same-sex couples from adopting. As the governor noted in his letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the law has not been enforced in Florida since 2010 after the Third District Court of Appeal ruled Florida’s law prohibiting adoption based on sexual orientation to be unconstitutional.

But it became a flashpoint during this year’s session after Miami Beach Democrat Dave Richardson added the amendment to the larger adoption bill.  Once that measure passed in the House, Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur then introduced a “conscience protection” bill that would give cover to private adoption agencies whose religious or moral convictions prevent them from placing children with gay parents. The bill would have protected the agencies from losing their licenses or state funding if they refused to facilitate adoptions on religious or moral grounds.

Critics called it unconstitutional, claiming it would allow faith-based child placement agencies to continue to discriminate against same-sex couples from adopting. But while Brodeur’s bill passed in the more conservative House, it failed to win approval in the state Senate.

That led to social conservatives like John Stemberger with the Florida Family Planning Council to rally its members, calling on them to tell Scott to veto HB 7013.

Scott wrote today that “Florida has a long history of protecting religious liberty and expression, and it is my belief that signing this bill codifies the state’s current practice into law and does not harm those fundamental rights. To be clear, some of our faith-based child placement agencies do not place children in homes with same-sex parents, and this is a matter of their sincerely held religious beliefs, consistent with religious freedom rights granted in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in Article I of the Florida Constitution.”

He went on to write that it’s his “hope and expectation” that the Legislature will take “future action to make clear that we will support private, faith-based operators in the child welfare system and ensure that their religious convictions continue to be protected.”

That remains to be seen.

But now state law says what has been the de facto law since 2010: gays are legally allowed to adopt in the state of Florida.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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