ANNAPOLIS – Legislation to enable courts to strip parental rights from a mother or father who conceived the child through non-consensual intercourse will head to the governor for his signature.
The House of Delegates passed the legislation Wednesday, a day after the Senate gave its approval to the measure.
Gov. Larry Hogan pledged to sign the measure during his State of the State address within an hour of the House’s vote.
“No rapist should be allowed to maintain parental rights and no victim should be forced to interact with her attacker,” Hogan said. “I comment you (legislators) for finally passing the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act, and I will sign it into law the moment it reaches my desk.”
The measure 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.
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, D-Baltimore County and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said those concerns are assuaged by the bill’s due process protections, such as the clear and convincing standard of proof in the termination proceeding.
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.
*UPDATED Feb. 8, 2018: The story’s headline was changed to reflect the fact the bill passed by the House on Jan. 31 was not a final version and did not go to the governor’s desk.