SALT LAKE CITY — A bill on Utah's Capitol Hill aims to crack down on adoption agency fraud, but a committee put it on hold Tuesday.
Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, has sponsored SB183, a bill that would bar "fraudulent representations" in adoptions. If the bill passes, adoption agencies could face penalties, including having their licenses suspended or even revoked, for fraudulent activity.
After two hours of debate Tuesday, a legislative committee decided to put the bill on hold.
Wes Hutchins, an attorney who has worked for years on Utah adoption cases, claims he has done "secret shopper" investigations. He said some adoption agencies instruct birth mothers to blatantly lie when placing their children; some even recommended the mother make up a story for the father.
"They would coach birth mothers on how to lie and deceive birth fathers, such as, 'oh you can just go back to your home state and tell the birth father that the baby died,' " Hutchins said.
He also claims some of the agencies have promised post-placement bonuses to birth moms.
"(They say,) ‘We'll give you $3,000 or $4,000 if you come here to Utah, place the child for adoption. We're supposed to tie that to your rent and utilities but nobody checks up on that so you can spend that money however you want,' " Hutchins said.
He went before state lawmakers and told them about some of these problems.
Ken Stettler, director of the state Office of Licensing, said there are 36 licensed adoption agencies in Utah, and approximately one-fourth have had complaints filed against them.
However, not every complaint is substantiated and results in corrective action or other sanctions. The agency is prepared to investigate and impose sanction when warranted, he said.
"If they come to our attention, we'll address them. There may be some we're not aware of," Stettler said.
This bill isn't without its share of criticism. Some senators said the definition of fraud was too broad and the measure in theory could open up every adoption in the state of Utah to the prospect of a lawsuit.
Opponents said it does not address the underlying problem in many disputed adoptions involving birth mothers from out of state, that the respective states do not recognize one another's paternity registries.
Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, said the bill could conceivably "undo a lot of Utah's Adoption Act, which I don't believe is appropriate."
The committee voted to move to the next item on its agenda, which means the bill remains with the committee and the sponsor can ask to place it on the agenda of a future meeting.