Maryland Courts Can Now Revoke Rapists' Parental Rights
By Michael Dresser
Gov. Larry Hogan signed legislation Tuesday that would allow rape victims to terminate the parental rights of their assailants -- a proposal that took more than a decade to make it through the Maryland General Assembly.
The Republican governor was flanked by the two Democratic leaders of the legislature -- Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch -- as he signed a measure that passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate unanimously.
The bill's reception hasn't always been so warm, however. For years the measure passed the Senate only to die in the House Judiciary Committee. Last year it passed both chambers only to fail in the final hours of the session when a House-Senate conference committee -- made up of all men -- failed to reach an agreement on the details.
That outcome -- along with the poor optics of having an all-male group deciding the fate of a bill involving women's rights -- embarrassed lawmakers and prompted Busch and Miller to make its passage a priority this year. Hogan also announced his support, promising to sign the bill as soon as its reached his desk.
The legislation does not require a rape conviction for the father's rights to be terminated. It allows women to go to court in a civil proceeding to seek a finding that her child was conceived in rape -- whether there has been a criminal case or not. The standard of proof is "clear and convincing evidence" -- which is not as strict as the "beyond a reasonable doubt" test for a criminal conviction but a steeper bar than in most civil cases.
During the ceremony, Busch paid tribute to the work of Del. Kathleen Dumais, who first introduced the measure in 2007 and who has pushed for it ever since.
Dumais, vice chair of the Judiciary Committee, said it was the question of terminating parental rights in a civil proceeding that complicated the bill's passage for so many years.
The Montgomery County Democrat said she was "very pleased that Maryland has a process in place to let someone who's been assaulted to file a petition to terminate the parental rights of the attacker."
Passed as an emergency bill, the legislation took effect immediately upon its signing Tuesday.
Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said her organization will waste no time in making use of the law. She said coalition attorneys plan to bring a suit Wednesday seeking termination of parental rights in the case of a 16-year-old girl who became pregnant through rape at 14.
Jordan said the case would be filed under seal. She declined to identify the jurisdiction in which the case will be brought.
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