SALT LAKE CITY — It would likely take an act of Congress to create a national registry for men who want to declare their paternity.
Short of that, Utah could create such a registry — intended to help protect the parental rights of men who father children out of wedlock — through an interstate compact that other states could agree to join, members of the Utah Legislature's Health and Human Services Interim Committee were told Wednesday.
Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, likened Utah leading out on a national putative father registry to "a pregnancy version of the Common Core." The Common Core is a state-led effort that established a single set of educational standards in math and language arts for grades K-12.
While Christensen's comment was partly in jest, adoption attorney David Hardy showed lawmakers a national map that details the various status of states' putative registries.
"It kind of looks like a crazy quilt," Hardy said. "It gets a little confusing as you go from state to state."
Hardy, speaking for the Utah Adoption Council, said the organization "really, really likes the idea of a national registry for putative fathers."
Janice Houston, state registrar and director of the Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics, said a putative father is "any man who has had a physical relationship in which a pregnancy resulted."
Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, said her intent in studying the issue was to determine if there is a better means to bring "justice and equity to biological fathers who may not be married to the biological mother."
In recent years, a number of court cases in Utah have involved pregnant, unmarried women from other states giving birth in Utah and placing the children for adoption without the knowledge or consent of the biological father.
Putative registries help to establish paternity so biological fathers who intend to help support and raise a child can preserve their rights. In Utah, a man does not have to be a resident for a state court to recognize his rights, Houston said.
Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, questioned whether a national registry would "paralyze the adoption process."
But adoption attorney Wes Hutchins, president of the Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices, said a national registry would help facilitate matters.
"In the absence of a putative father registry, we are paralyzing too many adoptions because there are too many questions about stability. Is there a father out there?" Hutchins said.
Hardy said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has introduced federal legislation to create a national registry, but it has not had much traction.
Robles said in conversations with Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, he has wondered aloud why the states are left to wait for the federal government to act on reforms.
"Maybe we should start the compact and ask the other states to join us," Robles said.
"It wouldn't be the first time" Utah has pushed back against federal inaction, she said.
In a related matter, Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, asked members of the interim committee to consider amending state law to allow the disclosure of information in adoption records.
Adoption records are closed, but a growing number of adoptions are open, meaning adopted children have varying degrees of information about their biological parents.
"By practice, we're already switching to an open process, but it just takes extra work," he said.
Nielson is proposing a change in which the records would be presumed open with ample exceptions to redact or release only limited information.
Hardy said any change in the law would apply to adoptions after the enactment date of new law and not apply to previous records.
He said he believes a law could be crafted as a "reasonable compromise" to protect the various interest of biological parents, adopted children and adoptive families.
The committee took no action on either issue discussed Wednesday.
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