A legislative task force has advanced a bill proposal that would incorporate the Wyoming Indian Child Welfare Act into the state’s Safe Haven law.
Safe Haven laws allow parents or their designees to anonymously relinquish newborn children to safe haven providers who are barred from requiring any information from the people relinquishing the child.
Under the bill draft the Wyoming Legislature’s ICWA Task Force proposed last week, however, those providers would be required to ask parents and designees whether the relinquished child “has any tribal affiliation or Native American ancestry,” and to “request relevant information to determine the child’s Tribe.”
“Regardless of who the parents are, the safe haven provider is going to have to ask if they have any Tribal affiliation,” Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, said during the Task Force meeting. “Every parent that comes in relinquishing the right to that child is going to be asked that question.”
Previously, the bill also stated that “the parent or parent’s designee may refuse to answer” the question about Native American ancestry, but the ICWA Task Force voted to remove that language from the draft last week after hearing from Tribal task force members.
“We have an issue with that sentence,” Northern Arapaho Business Council Co-Chairwoman Karen Returns to War said. “I don’t believe that language, that one sentence there, fits with what we’re doing here.”
Wyoming Department of Family Services director Korin Schmidt said she read the sentence as an attempt to “conform” with the rest of the Safe Haven law, which aims to “make it as easy as possible” for parents to relinquish their newborns.
But Wyoming Rep. Forrest Chadwick, R-Evansville, pointed out that the Safe Haven law already says parents “may” provide information about the child – meaning they aren’t required to do so.
“I think (the law) pretty much provides for everything that’s in the challenged sentence,” Chadwick said. “I don’t see any harm (in removing it).”
Dona Playton, a professor and director of the Family and Child Legal Advocacy Clinic at the University of Wyoming College of Law, agreed with Chadwick, adding that the sentence in question “almost waters down the intent of including the ICWA language in this statute.”
The task force unanimously approved the amendment removing the contested language from the bill draft, which they also approved unanimously.
The legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations will consider the bill draft during a meeting scheduled to take place Nov. 16-17 in Classroom 7 of the Frank B. Wise Business Center in Fort Washakie.