A new law that takes effect on Aug. 1, 2013, will create a way for some teenagers to reunite with parents whose rights had been terminated.
The Family Reunification Act lays out a legal process that doesn’t currently exist in Minnesota. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi was among the law’s proponents. So was Gina Evans, a mother who abused drugs, did prison time, lost her parental rights, and then, finally, rebuilt her life – only to learn that there was no legal way for her to get her children back.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill on May 1.
Before voting, one lawmaker asked on the House floor whether the new law would hurt some children by giving them false hope of reuniting with their parents.
“That has been my concern for a very long time, and why I have killed this bill for the past six years,” said Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center), the bill’s House sponsor. Hilstrom said she took on the legislation to make sure it was done right. After years of work, she and others who crafted the law reached consensus on its language, which applies only to families in narrowly defined circumstances.
The law can be applied only to children who are at least age 15 and have not been adopted, among other conditions. Before families can reunite under the new process, the relevant county attorney and social services agency have to agree that the move is in the child’s best interest. Parents seeking reunification have to show that they’ve fixed the problems that led to their loss of rights and can take care of their children.
Sen. Kathy Sheran (DFL-Mankato) carried the bill in the Senate.