The Salt Lake Tribune, February 17, 2001

House OKs Spanking Definition: Measure clarifies when paddlers risk losing kids
Dan Harrie

The Utah House on Friday approved a bill that clearly draws the line between spanking and abuse, and clearly divides lawmakers on the underlying philosophy of child discipline. House Bill 387 would narrow the reasons for the state to remove children from a home.

It excludes "reasonable" spanking and paddling from the definition of abuse. At the same time, it spells out what excessive spanking is: that which causes bruises, swelling, sprains, fractures or hemorrhaging. "This is not about beating a child," said Rep. Matt Throckmorton, R-Springville. "Simple swatting on the backside is not abuse." Throckmorton's House colleagues -- at least most of them -- agreed. They approved the bill 51-20 and sent it to the Senate. Many Democrats opposed the measure, claiming it would open the door to increased family violence.

"It sends the message that, 'Parents, it's OK to spank your children,' " said Rep. Trisha Beck, D-Sandy. "Spanking can have a very devastating effect on our children."

"This gives license to parents to spank unduly," agreed Rep. Patricia Jones, D-Holladay. She added that studies have shown that "spanked children are two times as likely to develop drug and alcohol addiction" as others.

But most Republican lawmakers disputed that, one citing the "spare the rod, spoil the child" admonition. "I'm the product of spanking," said Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden. "I didn't turn out too bad."

Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo, cited his own experience. He spanked his first four children as part of their discipline, but hung up the paddle for the last five. Clark said he can discern no difference between them now they are adults.

But the choice rightly belongs in the home, argued Clark. "Let the parents make this decision," he said. "I'm concerned that families again are encroached [upon] by the law." Actually, the law won't change much about the way the state Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) investigates and enforces child-abuse laws.

Most of the provisions of HB387 already are in place through rule or policy, said Linda Wininger, of DCFS constituent services. A simple spanking is not grounds for taking a child into state custody, although, "I'm not going to tell you it hasn't happened," she said. Such a case, though, would be rare.

Bruising and swelling as indicators of abuse are "what we look for now," said Wininger. "That's the nature of our job -- we have to make those decisions."

Putting those criteria in law "won't put a caseworker at risk," she said. "It may put children more at risk. . . . There may be kids that get spanked three or four more times."

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