Gov. Larry Hogan threw his support Friday behind long-stalled legislation to let courts terminate the parental rights of fathers when their babies are found to have been conceived through rape, calling on the General Assembly to make it the first order of business when it convenes Wednesday.
“No rapist should be allowed to retain their rights as a parent, and no victim should ever be forced to interact with their attacker,” Hogan said at a State House news conference.
As he endorsed the parental-rights bill, Hogan also unveiled four proposals to protect the rights of victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
The measure on fathers’ rights when sex is not consensual has been pushed by women’s rights advocates in the legislature for a decade — only to fail each time. The dilemma lawmakers have wrestled with is that the legislation applies not just to convicted rapists but also to those who have been accused.
Under the bill, to revoke parental rights, a mother would have to show a court by “clear and convincing evidence” that the child was conceived through nonconsensual sex. The standard for criminal conviction of “beyond a reasonable doubt” would not apply.
Last year, the measure was passed by both the House and the Senate, only to die in the last hours of the 90-day session when negotiators for the two chambers could not resolve their differences.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller decided last year to make the measure a joint priority of the leadership of both chambers. Their commitment to an early agreement had already put the measure on a fast track to passage.
The governor pledged to sign the measure as soon as it arrives on his desk.
“We are pledging any assistance our administration could possibly offer to get this important bipartisan, common-sense measure passed through the legislature,” he said.
One measure of how fast the leadership wants to proceed is that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill Thursday, the second day of session, when most committees are still getting organized.
“I believe all of the differences have been worked out,” said Sen. Bobby Zirkin, the Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the panel. “We’re ready to roll on this.”
Del. Kathleen Dumais, the bill’s lead sponsor over the years, said this is the first time Hogan has weighed in on the measure. The Montgomery County Democrat, vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that identical bills have been introduced in the House and the Senate and that if any differences arise they will be resolved quickly.
Hogan also added a series of measures to protect victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence to his legislative agenda for 2018.
One would classify felony human trafficking as a violent crime in any cases involving minors and in cases involving adults when victims are forced to perform sex acts. Hogan noted that the effect of that classification would be to keep offenders in prison longer.
The governor renewed his endorsement of a measure, championed by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, among others, that would let prosecutors introduce evidence of past sexual offenses in pending cases of such crimes to establish a pattern of behavior.
“We want this to finally be the year this common-sense measure is enacted into law,” Hogan said.
Mosby welcomed the governor’s support for the measure.
“I am pleased that the Serial Predator Prevention Act has bipartisan support and will be a high priority this legislative session,” the prosecutor said in a statement. “This bill puts Maryland in line with 37 other states and federal law; and it gives us the tools as prosecutors, to fight against repeat violent perpetrators on behalf of the survivors of sexual assault.”
The governor also proposed a measure that would shield a domestic violence victim’s deed from the public record when buying a house. The measure is intended to keep abusers from using those records to track down their victims. The proposal is patterned on an existing program protecting renters.
Hogan is also proposing to create a new victims’ services unit within the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to coordinate programs around the state. He described it as a “one-stop shop” for assistance to crime victims on matters of notification about their cases and restitution.
The governor’s office said that measure would bring another $800,000 to the state in federal funds for victims’ services.
Dumais welcomed Hogan’s support of the parental rights bill and his four agenda items.
“I’m very pleased that the governor’s going to support all of these things,” she said.