The Wichita Eagle , February 2, 1999

Attorney general proposes crackdown--wants to lower the threshold of what constitutes child-abuse

TOPEKA (AP) -- Children can be struck in the face hard enough to leave a handprint, show multiple bruises from a spanking or suffer cuts and it isn't enough under Kansas law to warrant prosecution of the abuser.

That must change, Attorney General Carla Stovall said Monday as she campaigned to give prosecutors more leeway to charge and convict child abusers.

Stovall is having a bill introduced into the Legislature that would lower the legal threshold for evidence of abuse.

It would make bruises, cuts and malnutrition evidence to sustain a Class A misdemeanor charge of physically injuring a child.

Broken bones, injury to the head, burns and damage to organs would be evidence to sustain a felony charge of causing serious injury to a child.

Present law sets a much higher threshold, requiring evidence of "cruelly beating or intentionally torturing or inflicting cruel and inhuman corporal punishment or shaking which results in great bodily harm."

That threshold, Stovall told reporters at a Statehouse news conference, is too high for the state "to hold accountable those who hurt our children."

Stovall said her bill and another, which would expand the state's Child in Need of Care law to bring the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services into cases more quickly and give the state welfare agency more time to sort out the facts, grew out of a September 1997 child welfare symposium in Wichita.

Other bills Stovall is proposing would make those aware a child is being severely abused subject to prosecution and would increase penalties when children are present where drugs are being manufactured or are in the car when a person is arrested for driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

SRS Secretary Rochelle Chronister said SRS started a pilot project in Garden City by hiring a person with law enforcement experience to investigate child abuse cases and collect evidence.

That program will be expanded to other areas of the state, she said.

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