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More Money For State Workers - Who Adopt

Florida Senate

A last vestige from one of the darkest chapters in Florida’s history fell in the Senate Tuesday. The members took a largely ceremonial vote to wipe a 1977 ban on gay adoptions off the statute books.

Conservative Republicans in the Senate voted Tuesday to lift a 1977 ban on gay adoptions. In exchange, they got home schooling for foster kids.

It was a smart trade. The courts struck down the gay adoption ban in 2010. But Senate President Andy Gardiner of Orlando urged the chamber not to get sidetracked.

“There’ll be a lot of discussion about what was hijacked and what was discussed and what was discussed when.”

The deal originated in the House, when arch conservatives, like Republican Representative Dennis Baxley of Ocala, debated passionately for lifting the gay ban.

“As an adoptive father of two of my five children, I can tell you right now, I believe in the urgency of giving a child permanency”

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli acknowledged the vote was a deal for home schooling.

Gaetz says it’s a good idea. The real victims of discrimination, he says, are foster parents who can’t home school.

“Because there was this sense that somehow home schoolers were kind of Ruby Ridge people, they couldn’t be trusted and maybe they were beating their children at home.”

Democrats warned it would invite more abuse and neglect. Gaetz  asked the Department of Children and Families for evidence of it.

“And the answer came back, no, we have no evidence, none at all. And the department itself was ready to change that rule.”

And the almost 900 kids waiting for a loving family got a bonus. The bill revives an old program that gives state workers 5 thousand dollars for adopting and 10 thousand dollars for adopting special needs children.

At its peak, the program doled out 9 million dollars in subsidies. Recessionary budget cuts whittled it into extinction. Gaetz did his homework on the finances, too.

“Right now, it costs about $35,000 a year to keep a child in a group home, it costs over $6,000 a year to keep a child in foster care with a foster care family. By having these kids adopted because they will be adoptable we will be able to save money.”

The bill doesn’t include a hotly controversial measure the House is pushing. The conscience protection measure would allow private agencies to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Barbara De Vane, a veteran advocate for social causes, considers it an attempt to hold foster children hostage to a political statement.

“Well, I think it’s the most disgusting, hypocritical thing I’ve seen in over 40 years that I’ve been up here doing this sort of thing.”

Odds are most state workers who adopt will be getting the $10,000 bonus for special needs children. Gaetz says there are 852 foster children and 767 have special needs. Three quarters of the foster children have been waiting more than a year to find permanent homes.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.