Utah adoption agencies shut down by regulators could face more scrutiny if they try to reopen

The proposal comes after a Salt Lake Tribune report on a woman who received a new license five years after her former agency was shut down due to “repeated and chronic” state law violations.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Chris H. Wilson listens to Senate committee meeting discussion on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. Under a bill Wilson is sponsoring, state licensors could get more discretion when deciding whether to issue new licenses to adoption agency owners who have previously had their licenses revoked.

State licensors would get more discretion when deciding whether to issue new licenses to adoption agency owners who have previously had their licenses revoked if a proposed bill is signed into law.

The proposal comes nearly a year after the Utah Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Licensing issued a new license to a woman whose former adoption agency, Heart and Soul, had been shuttered five years earlier after “repeated and chronic violations” of state law, including some that a judge called “potentially criminal.”

Sen. Chris H. Wilson’s bill, SB147, gives licensers the option to approve, approve on a conditional status or reject applications from such business owners. Currently, owners can choose to reapply for a license after the five-year wait period following a revocation, and licensors only have the option to approve or deny the application.

“This will help make sure the person has fixed their problems and gives the state an easier path revoke a license if problems exist and persist,” Wilson, R-Logan, said during a Jan. 30 committee hearing.

The lawmaker said he was inspired to run the bill after The Salt Lake Tribune published a report on the woman receiving a new license.

“As soon as I read that article, we got on top of it,” Wilson said, “and this will help take care of that.”

While Wilson said DHHS “didn’t have much [of] an option under state law” to deny the woman’s licensing application, administrative rules state that Utah regulators can consider an adoption agency’s past violations and “misleading information that has been presented by the program” to determine the likelihood that the agency will follow state rules before choosing to approve an application.

After the woman’s license was approved, DHHS said in a statement to The Tribune that, “based on a review of the facts, the Office determined the applicant qualified for an adoption agency license.”

Records show that licensors have found no violations at the woman’s new adoption agency, Love and Light. The facility was last inspected in March 2023 as part of the prelicensing process.

In a statement released Wednesday, DHHS said it “appreciates Sen. Wilson taking on this important issue” but added the agency is “neutral on most legislation, including this bill.”

In addition to giving licensors more discretion, Wilson’s bill would allocate $245,000 to a grant program to support pregnancy resource centers that “support women who choose pregnancy over abortion,” Wilson said.

It would also clarify that birth parents who chose to place a child for adoption can schedule the three free counseling sessions they are entitled to under state law before placing the child for adoption — or for up to three months postpartum, among other changes.

The House Health and Human Services Committee unanimously passed the bill out of committee Monday. It had already passed through the Senate.