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Hogan signs bill enabling judges to end rapists’ parental rights

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday signed into law a long-stalled measure to enable courts to strip parental rights from a mother or father who conceived the child through non-consensual intercourse. (The Daily Record / Steve Lash)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday signed into law a long-stalled measure to enable courts to strip parental rights from a mother or father who conceived the child through non-consensual intercourse.
(The Daily Record / Steve Lash)

ANNAPOLIS – Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday signed into law a long-stalled measure to enable courts to strip parental rights from a mother or father who conceived the child through non-consensual intercourse.

By its terms, the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act went into effect upon the governor’s signature.

“This is a very important day,” Hogan said moments before signing the measure. “I know this is a long time coming.”

The law, which had failed in the General Assembly for nearly a decade, enables 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 does 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 must find that termination of parental rights would be in the child’s best interests.

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.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a supporter of the bill, addressed those concerns at Tuesday’s signing ceremony, saying “it was a very difficult bill.”

Sponsors of the measure sought to assuage these concerns with 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 is barred from being cited at a related criminal proceeding except to impeach what he or she testifies to at that time.

Many lawmakers have a lingering concern with the law’s provision relieving a parent whose rights are terminated from any obligation to pay child support. An amendment to remove that provision recently failed in the Senate for fear the House would reject the bill if it imposed a child-support obligation on a parent who has no parental rights.

Miller said Tuesday that the Senate will revisit the child-support payment issue in a future General Assembly session, saying a person who conceived a child through sexual assault should not be relieved of paying child support.

“That (provision) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” said Miller, D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert.

At the signing ceremony, House Speaker Michael E. Busch praised Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery and vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee, for continuing to fight for the bill even after years of disappointment.

“Without her, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Busch, D-Anne Arundel.


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