Among the first items on the legislative agenda in Annapolis next year will be a bill to allow rape survivors the right to terminate the parental rights of their rapist.
The Rape Survivor Family Protection Act – which failed to pass in last year’s legislative session when time ran out – will be the first bill on the docket in the House of Delegates and the second bill on the docket in the Senate.
“I’ve been working on this bill with many others for about 10 years,” said Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-15), the lead sponsor of the bill.
The bill would allow rape survivors who become pregnant by their attacker to petition the state to remove his parental rights. Current law requires a felony rape conviction to terminate a rapist’s parental rights.
Dumais said the General Assembly ran out of time last legislative session, as details of the bill were still being debated on the last day of the legislative session. The failure brought the Maryland legislature under nationwide scrutiny because the conference committee that failed to reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills was made up entirely of men.
But Dumais said the gender of the legislators working on the bill had no bearing on last year’s outcome.
“The optics weren't good, but that certainly wasn't a reason why that failed,” Dumais said
The bill is a top priority this year, however, as evidenced by the fact that House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-30) and Senate President Thomas V. Miller (D-27) are co-sponsors of this year’s version of the bill.
“That tells me, and should tell everybody, all that attention, negative attention, negative press, has resulted in real determination to get the bill passed,” said Sen. Brian Feldman (D-15) the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate.
According to Dumais and Feldman – the bill’s lead sponsors in the House and the Senate – details are what have previously held up the bill.
Dumais said particular attention has to be paid to due process rights for the accused. Unlike a criminal case which requires a jury to use the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” to convict somebody of a felony, Dumais bill would use the less strict “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard. If passed, a judge would have the power to remove the parental rights of an accused rapists of there was “clear and convincing evidence” that there was a rape and it lead to the conception of the child in question.
The proceeding would not be criminal and any judgment made would have no effect on criminal cases Dumais said. Feldman added that the lower evidentiary standard will bring Maryland in line with most states.
"I'm cautiously optimistic we will get it done," Feldman said.