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A proposal to restrict adoptions of the children of Marshall Islanders ran into constitutional law concerns and was withdrawn during the current legislative session, its backing legislator said Wednesday.

Rep. Jeff Williams, R-Springdale, said he will bring a substantially revised version before the regular session in January. The government of the Marshall Islands is trying to curb the number of Marshallese children given up for adoption in the United States, Williams said and the Marshallese consulate in Springdale has confirmed.

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Northwest Arkansas has the largest concentration of Marshallese people in the continental United States. They are still a minority, but the majority of adoptions approved in Washington County are for Marshallese children, court officials say.

Adoptions in the Marshall Islands require approval by the government there. Williams proposed that adoptions by Marshallese citizens either living in the United States or traveling to this country also require Marshallese government approval.

However, attorneys for the Legislature's staff said there were concerns about whether the proposal was constitutional, Williams said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

"The bill included protections for the Marshallese government and the rights of the adopting parents are protected already, but there are concerns that the birth mother and father's rights are not being protected," Williams said. "We think we can add the needed protections by having the costs of hiring the birth parents an attorney paid for in the cost of the adoption, if they cannot afford one themselves. But the short bill I had grew to four pages with a lot of detail, and I don't think I can get a bill that complex through a fiscal session."

Fiscal sessions are held in even-numbered years and are supposed to concentrate on budget issues. Bringing a nonbudget bill up before a fiscal session requires a two-thirds vote.

"I'll bring it up again in eight months and am sure I can get it through," Williams said.

Adoption attorney Marsha Woodruff of the Woodruff Law Firm in Fayetteville said Wednesday that she doubts the bill can be fixed. It singles out the Marshallese, denying them equal protection under the law, she said. That is an insurmountable constitutional failing, she said.

"We have a treaty with the Marshall Islands saying mothers cannot travel here for the purposes of adoption, but it is unenforceable," Woodruff said. "A pregnant woman coming to the United States may be traveling here for an adoption or to visit her sister.

"Unless you want to give every woman boarding a plane in the Marshall Islands an ultrasound to see if she's pregnant and then also read her mind to find out why she's traveling here, you cannot stop her," Woodruff said.

"Arkansas laws do not enforce international treaties," she said. "This has to be addressed at the international and federal level."

NW News on 03/08/2018

Print Headline: Adoption bill stalls

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