By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Spurred by the disclosure that a lawmaker transferred custody of children he had adopted to a family where one of the children was sexually abused, Arkansas' governor on Monday signed legislation barring the practice known as "re-homing."
The new statute signed by Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, forbids parents from assigning custody of children they adopt to another household, except close relatives, without court approval. The crime would be a felony punishable by a prison sentence and fines.
The Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York, which tracks such legislation, said Wisconsin and Louisiana have also banned re-homing. Florida and Illinois are weighing legislation to restrict or ban the practice, it said.
The issue arose in Arkansas when it was revealed that State Representative Justin Harris and his wife had adopted two sisters, aged 3 and 5, in 2013 only to assign them to an employee of the childcare center he owns when the children failed to fit into to their new home.
Harris' employee, a former youth minister, pleaded guilty last year to sexually abusing the older girl. He is now serving a 40-year prison sentence.
The sisters were removed from the home and are now living with another adoptive family outside Arkansas.
Representative David Meeks, himself an adoptive parent and an author of the new law, said what happened to the older sister was deeply disturbing.
Harris, a Republican, refused calls by Democrats to resign his seat in the Arkansas House but did leave his leadership position on two key committees, one of them overseeing state services to children.
Harris said he continued to receive state payments after he had re-homed the two girls but said he relayed the money to their new parents.
(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Sandra Maler)