Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Revision of bill seems more realistic, if perhaps redundant

Sacramento-lawmaker revises spanking proposal
Her bill now targets shaking, kicking and other acts instead
Yi, Matthew. San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 23, 2007, pg. B1.

A state lawmaker who stirred up a national debate over child-rearing with a proposal to outlaw the spanking of young children has abandoned her plan, saying Thursday that she didn't have the support among Democratic lawmakers to ensure passage in the Assembly.

"The votes are simply not there to ban spanking or related injuries to children," said Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View.

While Lieber formally introduced a bill that she said would protect children from abuse, the measure allows using an open hand to hit a child's bottom. Her bill, AB755, would outlaw vigorous shaking and hitting the face or head of a child under 3 years old.

The legislation also addresses child abuse for all minors by seeking to ban anyone from hitting a child with an implement such as a stick, rod, switch, electrical cord, extension cord, belt, broom or shoe. Throwing, kicking, burning or cutting a minor also would not be allowed. Striking a child with a closed fist would also be illegal, as would choking.

"The fundamental change is that it will be a much broader bill," Lieber said.

The spanking proposal caused a whirlwind of national media coverage, including a skit on "Saturday Night Live" where an actor playing a short-tempered, chain-smoking nanny weighed in on the issue by talking about her book, "I Will Beat Yo Ass."

Lieber said she still believes that children under 3 years old should not be spanked at all but decided to make the changes after a barrage of feedback from judges, district attorneys, law enforcement officials and child experts.

Her effort ultimately boils down to addressing a serious issue of child abuse and crafting a bill that's more palatable for her colleagues, including Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, she said.

Núñez had been noncommittal about a bill to outlaw spanking. Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for Núñez, said the speaker is "pleased that the legislation is more focused and workable."

The bill incorporates new language for existing laws on child abuse and follows the same guidelines for punishment that includes time in jail for up to one year, or in state prison for up to six years.

If a judge grants probation, the probationary time would be at least 48 months, and the defendant must attend either counseling or a nonviolent parental education class. The court can also issue a protective order requiring the perpetrator to stay away from the victim or even remove the child from the home and into foster care if the defendant is a single parent.

But critics argued Thursday that while Lieber's efforts are admirable, current child abuse laws are adequate.

"All of the things that she seeks to ban are already prohibited if they cause serious harm to a child. If you slap a 3-year-old on the face and you cause serious injury, there are already statutes that cover this,"
said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a nonprofit group in Alexandria, Va.

Dr. Carol Miller, clinical professor of pediatrics at UCSF, said the bill sounds redundant.

"Currently, if we see that a child has been abused in any way, we are mandated to report that to police," she said. "I'm not seeing how this helps that mandate."


Miller argued that rather than approaching the problem in a punitive way, a better method would be making more resources available, such as parenting classes and programs to help victims of child abuse recuperate physically and psychologically.

But the new bill is getting a more positive response from at least one lawmaker who opposed the initial idea.

"I applaud Ms. Lieber's effort to narrow the scope and make this bill more of a law-enforcement type of bill," said Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine.

Still, DeVore said he will reserve final judgment until he's had feedback from investigators and prosecutors who deal with child abuse cases.

Assemblywoman Sally Lieber said she changed her plans to introduce a bill banning spanking because it lacked Democratic support.

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