Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Rep. Nate Bell blasts adoption story before seeing it; 'rehoming' bill introduced

Posted By on Wed, Mar 4, 2015 at 4:07 PM

NATE BELL: How dare the Times investigate the actions of Rep. Justin Harris? - BRIAN CHILSON
  • BRIAN CHILSON
  • NATE BELL: How dare the Times investigate the actions of Rep. Justin Harris?

Stay tuned for more reporting following up on our cover piece this week concerning the "rehoming" of a child originally adopted by state Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) and his wife, Marsha; the child was then sexually abused at the second home. More details are emerging on this sad, strange story and its larger context, and we'll be posting updates in the days (and weeks?) to come.

Since we posted the item less than 24 hours ago, it's gotten over 3,500 shares on Facebook. Why? Because people are outraged that rehoming is something that can happen to adopted children, with no apparent consequences for the parents. They should be. As I wrote in the article, it's an example of a genuine flaw in the system that needs to be addressed by statute.

Responses have been pouring in. Foster and adoptive parents have noted their difficulties in dealing with DHS before, during and after adoptions. Advocates from other parts of the child welfare and mental health systems have given their input. So far, we haven't seen anything rebutting or refuting the facts stated in the article, or critiquing its basic points.

With one exception. Tuesday morning, as we were triple- and quadruple-checking the story, before it was ever published, I got a text from a colleague of Harris — Rep. Nate Bell, Republican of Mena. He informed me that I'm going to burn in hell for writing the article exposing Harris, who he describes as "a good man ... who has given [his] life to helping vulnerable children." I, on the other hand, am described by Bell as "the lowest fork [sic] of muckracking slime on earth." I'm attaching images of our full exchange below.

"Hell has a special corner for the merciless. You're headed there. Invest in asbestos," he said, before threatening me with harassment charges should I dare to contact him "again."

I'm placing "again" in quotes above, because Nate Bell initiated this text exchange with me. Again, before the article was ever published. Before he or anyone else had read it.

I've had limited but courteous exchanges with Bell in the past. Although I strongly disagree with his libertarian-leaning politics, I've appreciated his willingness to take a stand on some controversial issues, such as the push to separate state recognition of Robert E. Lee from MLK Day, and his dogged insistence on fiscal accountability from hidebound state institutions. I thought he was intellectually honest, if wrong on many or most issues. But sadly, he thinks someone asking hard questions about the actions of one of his fellow legislators results in eternal damnation.

At the great risk of further terrestrial or immortal reprisal, I sent Bell an email today asking if he'd read the article and if he stood by his words yesterday. No response was forthcoming. 

If the cops come by investigating that harassment charge, I'll just be cowering in my home, unarmed, like a good liberal.

UPDATE FROM MAX: This afternoon, Rep. Greg Leding filed a bill to make it a felony to transfer an adopted child to anyone but a relative. This appears a frontal assault on "rehoming." Hmmm. Might that go to the child welfare committee of which Harris is vice chair?

UPDATE II FROM MAX: And this statement from Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

Governor Hutchinson recognizes the valid concerns over the issue of “rehoming” and will ask DHS to review this practice and to determine what changes in rules need to be considered.

UPDATE III FROM MAX: Put a hold on a trophy just yet for Greg Leding. This is his Twitter take on our reporting about this sad story:

Greg Leding ‏@gregleding 16m16 minutes ago
If you don't like someone finding joy in another's difficult situation, you might want to unfollow @ArkansasBlog for a week or so

BENJI: Leding contacted us later and said he apologized for the tweet, which he deleted soon afterwards. He said it's been a difficult past few days. Emotions are high regarding this story, for all of us.
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