California Assembly panel holds sperm donor bill sought by actor Jason Patric

08/14/2013 12:00 AM

08/16/2013 11:00 AM

An effort to grant parenting rights to some sperm donors is likely done for the year, after proponents – including "Lost Boys" actor Jason Patric – failed to persuade an Assembly committee to move ahead with the bill.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to hold Senate Bill 115, asking the dueling sides to try to work out a compromise after the legislative session ends next month and bring the bill back next year.

But the bill's author, Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, vowed to continue his fight to allow sperm donors, in specific situations, to petition the courts to become parents. He said he'll keep trying to move his bill during the final weeks of the legislative session despite the committee's unfavorable vote.

"If we can come up with an agreement that will work, we are certainly going to try to bring it forward," Hill said. "In this building there is never a deadline. Everything can happen if you have an agreement."

Hill introduced the bill in March after a court denied Patric custody of 3-year-old Gus in his dispute with ex-girlfriend Danielle Schreiber. The court ruled that California law treats Patric as a sperm donor, not a parent, because he and Schreiber never married and she conceived with in vitro fertilization.

The bill sailed through the Senate but met substantial opposition in the Assembly once Schreiber and Patric hired a slew of Sacramento lobbyists to make their respective cases. Gay-rights groups split over the proposal, and women's groups said it would diminish the ability of women to form families without men. Patric and Schreiber took the debate to TV talk shows.

While the bill was inspired by their tumultuous Hollywood romance, it would affect other California families that rely on sperm donors to create children.

The fight over SB 115 reflects the modern state of child-rearing, where many heterosexual couples never marry, some lesbian couples conceive with sperm donated by a male friend, and relationships – gay and straight – frequently dissolve after children are born.

Debate in the Assembly hearing was intense. Proponents said SB 115 would close a legal loophole that forbids certain sperm donors from being recognized as fathers when an unmarried woman is impregnated with their sperm.

The other side said the proposal was an attempt by Patric to overturn the court ruling that he lost. While advocates for children and adoptive parents argued over how the bill would affect the public, the dramatic relationship that inspired the bill was evident inside the Capitol.

Patric appeared to be rehearsing his lines as he sat in the audience waiting to testify. Schreiber did not testify but sat in a stairwell outside the hearing room.

"I have become a voice of an issue that I never wanted to be a voice for," Patric said to the committee.

"But I'm also here mainly because I have to be Gus' voice. My son. A voice I have not heard in 25 weeks. A voice that is not allowed to mention my name in his mother's home. A voice that has sent me here to speak to you all."

Schreiber's lobbyist, Jennifer Capitolo, told the committee that her client would not testify because she had won her custody battle in court and didn't want to rehash it before the Legislature.

"Danielle just this morning was walking here to the Capitol, and as she was walking down J Street, Jason ran at her full speed ... yelling at her, saying things I'm not going to repeat right now," Capitolo said. "She had to retreat into the Hyatt hotel and call security."

An expression of disbelief crossed Patric's face and he said to the lawyer sitting with him, "Are we supposed to just sit here and listen to this?"

Committee members appeared frustrated by what many described as a he-said-she-said situation. While some voiced support for Patric, they said they weren't prepared to vote in favor of the bill.

"I don't want to see this sent to an interim hearing to die," said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance. "I would like to see work being done to address the merits of this bill."

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, said the issue was a matter for the courts.

"What we have is a trial court decision," he said. "It is premature, from my point of view, to have the Legislature take action on this issue."

Hill pressed the committee not to put the bill off to next year.

"When the time is short, you get it done. When you wait for a year, you don't get it done," he said. "By putting this in the interim, it kills the bill."

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @laurelrosenhall.


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