INDIANAPOLIS | A proposal to deny rapists parental rights if their crime results in a pregnancy was unanimously endorsed Tuesday by the General Assembly's Interim Study Committee on Corrections and the Criminal Code.
However, the panel cautioned that lingering questions on a variety of related issues, including standard of proof, child support, deadlines and adoption, must still be addressed by the sponsors — state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, and state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso — if the concept is to become law.
"I can't recall a bill where it seems like the policy objective is so clear and kind of a no-brainer, but then the minute you scratch the surface all these complications come up," said state Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington.
Slager and Charbonneau said, regardless of complications, their goal continues to be protecting rape victims from attackers who use the threat of asserting their parental rights to compel victims to refuse to testify or accept plea bargains for shorter prison sentences.
The study committee spent more than an hour struggling to modify Slager's House Bill 1261, which failed to advance out of the House Judiciary Committee during the 2015 session, to address some of those complications in advance of the Legislature's 2016 term that begins Jan. 5.
Lawmakers agreed to maintain "clear and convincing evidence" of rape as the standard for denying parental rights, even if there is not a "beyond a reasonable doubt" criminal rape conviction, so long as the decision is in the best interest of the child.
At the same time, the panel decided that a rape conviction should automatically stand as evidence that denying parental rights is in the best interests of the child, unless the rapist is able to prove otherwise.
They also insisted a rapist denied parental rights still pay child support, at least until the child is adopted by a second parent. Questions about the inheritance rights of a child following the intestate death of a rapist-parent were put off for another day.
Under the plan, a rape victim would have six months following the birth of a child conceived by rape to request a civil judge find sufficient evidence of the crime and terminate the rapist's parental rights.
A rape victim younger than 18 would have two years to make the request after turning 18, though a victim's parent or guardian could make the request sooner.