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Md. lawmakers confident bill denying rapists parental rights will pass next year

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery. (File photo)

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery. (File photo)

Proponents of a bill that would allow women to strip rights from a parent who conceived a child through non-consensual intercourse think they will have a version that passes in the Maryland General Assembly in 2018, especially with the heads of both chambers naming the measure as a priority.

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, who has been a long-time sponsor of the legislation, said Tuesday having the support of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch does make a difference, particularly with their positions being stated prior to the legislative session, which starts in January.

“Having leadership behind the bill I hope results in early hearings and an early vote in both chambers,” she said.

Miller announced last month the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act will be introduced in the Senate with his co-sponsorship.

“Senate Democratic leadership is going to make clear this a priority and the bill will be taken up early as Senate Bill 2,” Miller said in a Facebook post Oct. 26.

Busch, meanwhile, has been a proponent of the legislation in the past.

“In 2017 we unanimously passed this legislation in the House, and in 2018 I absolutely expect the same result,” Busch said on Facebook Oct. 20. “This protection is long overdue and victims of sexual assault need us to take action.”

The legislation, which has been introduced at least eight times in the last decade, died in a conference committee earlier this year after members of the House and Senate were unable to agree on one version. The committee was formed just hours before the end of the legislative session and criticized by some advocates for not including any female legislators.

Dumais said at the time that a lack of female legislators is not what stopped the bill from passing but “the optics were bad.” On Tuesday, she said legislators have been working to come up with a bill that reflects the recommended changes from the committee’s discussions and should address all of the concerns raised.

“As frustrating as it is that it’s taken 10 years, in many ways it’s a better bill,” she said. “I think that we have strengthened a lot of the due process protections for the respondent.”

The two versions of the bill sent to the committee differed on the statute of limitations for a parent seeking to terminate the parental rights of another as well as how and when any testimony from the parental rights hearing could be used against the alleged attacker.

Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the details of the bill are important because it allows a judge to label someone a rapist without a criminal conviction and uses a civil standard of preponderance of the evidence.

“The details of the bill matter because these are individuals that have never been charged with rape before, much less convicted,” he said.

The proposed legislation has not yet been filed.

Critics of previous bills have cited the threat to the due-process rights of individuals alleged, but in many cases not charged, with having committed rape and ensuring that termination of parental rights would require a non-criminal standard of proof.

Dumais, vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said she did not anticipate any problems getting the bill out of her committee. Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s and the committee chair, did not respond to requests for comment this week. Vallario voted in favor of the original version of the bill that passed the House earlier this year.

Zirkin echoed Dumais’ belief that the details have been worked out since the session ended.

“I am beyond confident that this bill will pass this year,” he said.

Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer Steve Lash contributed to this report.

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