Gov. Nathan Deal Gov. Nathan Deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation Monday designed to streamline adoption law and make it easier for children to find homes.

“In this exceptional state in which so many choose to work, learn and create a home, we continue to value the cornerstone of our society: the family,” Deal said in a news release after the signing ceremony. “Today, I signed HB 159 into law, finally bringing much-needed reforms to our adoption laws and making it easier for adoptive parents to create a loving family in our state.”

Deal called the legislation “critical and bipartisan” and said it “updates Georgia’s adoption laws for the 21st century.”

“The work leading up to today has been years in the making, as we last updated these laws when I was in the state Senate, a full generation ago,” Deal said. “With the signing of this bill into law, we are giving children, including the 13,500 children in foster care, renewed hope for a forever family.”

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice P. Harris Hines highlighted a crisis for foster children in his State of the Judiciary Speech last month.

“By the end of this year, some 14,000 of Georgia’s children are expected to be in our foster care system—a surge of 55 percent in the last three years,” Hines said. “At the same time, the number of foster families has diminished.”

Hines said the pattern reflects a national trend and attributed the foster care crisis in part to the opioid epidemic.

Deal singled out Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, for sponsoring this adoption reform legislation and shepherding it through the General Assembly. Reeves is an attorney with the firm of Smith Schnatmeier Dettmering Collins Reeves Hobson & Hobson in Marietta.

“At times, even the best of ideas to better serve children require a tireless champion to make it across the finish line, and Bert has been that individual,” Deal said. “The children in this state who yearn for a forever family are today closer to realizing their dream because of his determination.”

The reforms passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 1 with a vote of 168-0 and the Senate on Feb. 5 with a vote of 53-2.

“HB 159 represents the first major update of Georgia’s adoptions laws in almost three decades,” Reeves said in the governor’s news release. “With HB 159 being signed into law, families across our entire state will enjoy a more efficient and dependable process of adoption. This will reverse the unfortunate trend that we have seen, adoptive parents going to other states to adopt. This new law will also benefit the thousands of children, from newborns to foster children, who are in need of a loving, permanent home.”

Reeves said the new law represents three years of work by the Georgia Council of Adoption Lawyers, Superior Court Judges, adoption agencies and others.

“The signing of this bill into law is the proudest moment of my professional career, and I know that literally the lives of thousands of Georgians will be positively impacted for decades to come,” Reeves said. “This new law will help grow Georgia families.”