ANNAPOLIS – The Senate on Friday gave preliminary approval by voice vote to legislation enabling courts to strip parental rights from a mother or father who conceived the child through non-consensual intercourse.
The Senate could vote as early as Monday night on final passage of the proposed Rape Survivor Family Protection Act, Senate Bill 2. Meanwhile, the House of Delegates could begin debate on its identical version of the legislation, House Bill 1, the same day.
The measure, as amended in the Senate and by the House Judiciary Committee, is classified as an “emergency bill … necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health or safety.” As a result, the legislation must be passed by three-fifths of both the House and Senate, rather than by a simple majority, and would go into effect upon enactment, rather than Oct. 1.
The bill would enable judges to terminate the parental rights of a parent convicted of rape or who is shown by clear and convincing evidence to have conceived the child through non-consensual intercourse. The law would not apply, in the absence of a rape conviction, to couples married at the time of conception – unless the parents were separated in accordance with a protective order at the time of the assault-based conception and have lived apart since that time.
Judges would also have to find that termination of parental rights would be in the child’s best interests.
The parent whose rights are terminated would be relieved of any obligation to pay child support.
The bill’s Senate and House sponsors have been very protective of the measure this year, striving to ensure it clears both the Senate and House in identical form to ensure its enactment after nearly a decade of disappointment spurred by the failure of the General Assembly chambers to agree on a finished product.
For example, the Senate rejected – for the sake of securing ultimate enactment — an amendment that would permit a judge to order a parent to pay child support after parental rights had been terminated.
Sponsors, such as Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County, noted that the Senate had included such permission in past versions of the bill, placing it at odds with the House and dooming the legislation.
Determined not to have that happen again, Kelley urged her colleagues to reject the amendment, telling them to “get this bill passed this year without dressing it up” with a provision the House would likely reject.
“I don’t think we need to add Christmas tree lights at this point,” she said.
But Sen. Gail H. Bates, the amendment sponsor, called it a matter of fairness and justice for the victim and child to be able to get child support from the attacker.
“Why should the parent of the child have to suffer” without financial assistance? said Bates, R-Carroll and Howard.
That argument was backed by Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, who urged his colleagues to accept what he characterized as a just amendment and not reject it to appease the other chamber.
“We’re caving to the House,” said Jennings, R-Harford and Baltimore counties. “We’re changing the outcome of what we think is right. Let’s not cave on what we think is right.”
The Senate, however, rejected the amendment by a vote of 26-21.