BISMARCK — A proposal to exempt spouses from a bill allowing North Dakota judges to terminate a rapist's parental rights has attracted criticism from a domestic and sexual violence prevention group.
The amendment was added to Senate Bill 2185 Wednesday, March 27, in the House Judiciary Committee before the legislation received a "do pass" recommendation. As passed by the Senate, the bill would allow judges to terminate the parental rights of somebody who pleaded guilty to or was convicted of a rape that led to the child's birth if it's "in the best interests of the child."
But the amendment adds an exemption for instances when "the parent is married to the victim of the sexual act."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Kim Koppelman, a West Fargo Republican, said he didn't specifically push the amendment but it instead was generated through committee discussion. Audio from Wednesday's meeting showed Koppelman introduced the amendment to fellow lawmakers before a brief discussion.
Koppelman, a bill cosponsor, said the amendment was meant to address an unlikely and narrow circumstance in which a couple stays together after a rape "for whatever reason."
"Do we want courts coming into that process and then terminating the rights of one of those parents within that intact family of a married mother and father and the child?" he said in an interview.
Koppelman said the reaction has been "blown way out of proportion," noting that the amendment was easily adopted by a voice vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
Janelle Moos, executive director of CAWS North Dakota, a nonprofit organization representing domestic violence and sexual assault crisis intervention centers, said the original bill could open the door to new federal funds under the Violence Against Women Act. But she said the amendment may put that in jeopardy.
"I think it's completely unnecessary," Moos said of the amendment. "It really just turns the whole concept of the bill and our understanding of rape on its head."
Current law includes broad circumstances that could lead to someone losing their parental rights, but the bill appears to represent lawmakers' efforts to call attention to instances of rape, said North Dakota State's Attorneys' Association Executive Director Aaron Birst.
The bill could receive a vote on the House floor in the coming days. The Senate passed its original version unanimously in January.
House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, tweeted Wednesday night that the amendment made "great" legislation "horrendous."
Fargo Democratic Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who voted against the amendment, hoped the spousal exemption could be removed before the bill's final passage.
"Rape is rape," she said.