The D.C. City Council's Judiciary Committee began hearings yesterday on two bills that would make it a crime for a parent to kidnap a child from the other parent or a guardian in child custody disputes. The District is one of the few jurisdictions in the country that lacks such legislation.
Child advocates generally agree that legislation is needed, but they disagree over how tough it should be. One bill, introduced by council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), would make abduction of a child by a noncustodial parent or relative a felony, while the other, sponsored by council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) would treat it either as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of the case.
"A consideration of mitigating factors would help to ensure that the prescribed punishment matches the severity of the violation, particularly in view of the emotional sensitivity accompanying the dispute over child custody," said Rolark, who heads the committee.
However, Schwartz contended that Rolark's bill is a "watered down" version of her own. She also complained that Rolark had not given adequate notice to some child advocacy groups supporting Schwartz's bill that she was introducing a bill of her own.
"I hope these kinds of shenanigans do not get in the way of legislation," Schwartz said.
Rolark said Schwartz's bill was introduced a few days before the council's summer recess and that her bill was drafted by a law revision commission during the recess.
She said notices of yesterday's hearing were sent last month and that there was no basis for criticism that her office had withheld any information.