Marylanders across the political spectrum are stunned by the General Assembly’s ninth failure to pass legislation terminating the parental rights of a rapist and by its tone-deaf appointment of an all-male conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act.
House Bill 0428 passed with bipartisan support, including that of Mike Malone (Republican-Anne Arundel D-33). The implosion of the bill kicked in as the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act moved to the Senate, which significantly watered down the bill and required a conference committee to attempt a bicameral agreement. Each subsequent amendment, however, only added to the delay and reduced the viability of the bill’s passage.
One of the most troubling amendments required a conviction for termination of parental rights to sexual assault offenders, whereas the House had applied the less restrictive “clear and convincing evidence” standard applied by courts in similar cases. Since convictions for rape tend to be low, requiring them for termination of parental rights is problematic and rightly opposed by advocates for sexual assault victims. Another troubling addition in the Senate version permitted publishing the identity of the victim and the child, whereas the House version had protected their privacy.
In appointing members of the Conference Committee, the shenanigans went into overdrive with the leadership inexplicably failing to appoint a single woman to the committee. Many committee members, including some of the men, found this omission troubling, particularly since Delegate Kathleen Dumais, House Judiciary Committee Vice-chair (Democrat- Montgomery County), had been championing this legislation for years. Despite the strong efforts of Delegates David Moon (Democrat-Montgomery County) and Brett Wilson (Republican-Washington County) and Senator William Smith (Democrat-Montgomery County), the other committee members further delayed attempts at reconciliation until the clock simply ran out.
We don’t see much in the way of bipartisan legislation these days. The termination of a rapist’s parental rights should have been an issue that transcended political party, but it could not overcome the tactical delays in the Senate and our party’s antics on the conference committee. So what now?
- At the beginning of next session, call your Senators to accept the House version of the bill; we are not giving up this fight.
- Vote against the committee members when they run again for office. They effectively killed a bill that was supported by both Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Conference. Vote out:
Delegate Vallario (Democrat-Prince Georges County), House Judiciary Chair
Senator Bobby Zirkin (Democrat-Baltimore County), Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair
Michael Hough (Republican-Frederick & Carroll Counties)
3. Communicate to Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch that the absence of women on the bill’s conference committee is 100 percent UNACCEPTABLE, that we will be paying attention to the gender makeup of future committees, and that we expect our legislative leaders to take heed as well.
It is pretty embarrassing that a General Assembly controlled by Democrats could not ultimately get this bill passed in 2017. However, the history of this legislation is even more troubling. It has now failed on the floor or in committee a total of nine times. The responsibility for this collapse is squarely in the hands of the Democratic leadership in the Maryland House and Senate who have had years to work through the issues. If time ran out on this bill, it is because leadership wanted this legislation to die on the vines. This was not an “accidental” death. If we cannot finally get this bill passed in the 2018 legislative session, then we as Democrats should hold to account those representatives and senators who failed in their duty as public servants.
For further information on this issue, please access the Maryland Coalition Against Sex Assault’s website.
Join Delegate David Moon, Delegate Kathleen Dumais and others for a panel discussion on May 13, 2017, from 1:30-4:00 pm at the University of Baltimore Learning Common, 1415 Maryland Avenue, Baltimore, MD, 21201 on HB 0428, the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act and what can be done in 2018 to assure passage. Tickets may be acquired here.
John White is a politically-involved citizen from Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
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