Vt. lawmakers debate parental rights issues - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. lawmakers debate parental rights issues

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MONTPELIER, Vt. - Imagine surviving a sexual assault only to fight your attacker in court for parental rights of the resulting child. For some that nightmare is reality.

Victims' rights advocates say the situation has only unfolded a couple of times, but proponents of a new law want to ensure it never happens again.

But opponents of the measure say the proposed change could have severe unintended consequences. It's rare, but on a couple of occasions, rapists have fought for the child their crime conceived.

"Somebody who is a rapist, who has raped a woman does not deserve to have parental rights at all," said Sen. John Campbell, D-Vt. President Pro Tem.

That's a near impossible case to win in court, but proponents of a bill under consideration at the Statehouse say the victim shouldn't be forced into a legal fight.

The proposed new law would explicitly strip all parental rights to the child but still make perpetrators responsible for child support payments.

"Sexual assaults come in a very wide variety," said Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia County.

Most support the measure, but Benning worries that legislators are too focused on the most extreme cases and ignored sexual assault convictions based on age differences, where sexual consent is irrelevant to the charge.

He says as written the bill could strip constitutional rights without due process and adds that children are entitled to two parents if the perpetrator did not commit a heinous crime.

"I think what it has done is shifted the focus from what is the best interest of the child over to what is the best interest of the victim," said Benning.

"I don't buy it," said Campbell.

Benning and his fellow legislators may not agree now, but Benning hopes they'll be able to strike a balance that addresses his concerns as well as the victims.'

With time running out on the session that will need to happen quickly to become law this year. As passed by the House, the rights of the perpetrator parent would not automatically be stripped.
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