ANNAPOLIS – The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation to enable courts to strip parental rights from a mother or father who conceived the child through non-consensual intercourse.
Meanwhile, the House of Delegates gave preliminary approval Tuesday to identical legislation. A vote on passage could come as early as Wednesday.
The measure – Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 1 – is classified as an “emergency bill … necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health or safety.” As a result, the bill would go into effect upon enactment, rather than on Oct. 1.
Gov. Larry Hogan has voiced support for the measure.
The legislation, which has failed for nearly a decade, 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 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 measure has died in past years amid concerns that it fails to protect the constitutional due-process rights of an accused parent who has never been criminally charged or convicted of a sexual offense. Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said Tuesday those concerns are assuaged by the bill’s due process protections, such as the clear and convincing standard of proof in the termination proceeding.
“This bill is not without its complications” but “serious constitutional problems” have been addressed, Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, told his colleagues moments before their 45-0 vote for passage. “I think this is the right place to start.”
Other due-process protections include allowing the parent accused of the sexual assault to decline to testify at the termination-of-parental-rights proceeding without any negative inference being drawn by the judge. In addition, any testimony that parent does give would be barred from being cited at a related criminal proceeding except to impeach what he or she testifies to at that trial.
Leading up to the Senate’s vote, Sen. Minority Leader J.B. Jennings called it “absolutely imperative that we get this bill passed” and urged the other chamber to follow.
“I hope the House steps up to the plate” said Jennings, R-Harford and Baltimore counties.