BOSTON -- Two weeks after Brookline's Town Meeting passed a resolution discouraging spanking by parents, lawmakers yesterday considered banning so-called corporal punishment on children across the state.
A bill filed by an Arlington lawmaker and backed by more than 60 residents from communities including Waltham and Newton would make it illegal to inflict "the willful infliction of physical pain" -- including spanking -- on children under 18.
"We must recognize that corporal punishment is risky behavior that can lead to injury and death," Arlington's Susan Lawrence said in a written statement she gave to the Legislature's joint Judiciary Committee yesterday. State Rep. James Marzilli, D-Arlington, filed the bill at Lawrence's request but did not testify yesterday. The bill defines corporal punishment as willfully inflicting pain through acts including: hitting, whipping, slapping, spanking, kicking, biting, striking with an object, pinching, punching, poking eyes, twisting limbs, boxing ears, shaking, "hot-saucing" (putting undiluted Tabasco sauce or soap in the mouth) and administering electric shocks.
The legislation would add the ban on corporal punishment on children to the state's law banning assault and battery on children, which calls for imprisonment in some cases of bodily injury.
Deana Pollard, an associate professor at Texas Southern University's law school, told the Judiciary Committee yesterday "there is no question this would pass Constitutional scrutiny." The measure is not about prosecuting parents for spanking but is about preventing abuse, Pollard said. In 41 percent of cases where a child is killed by parents, she said, the parents raised the defense they were using corporal punishment.
"Massachusetts can be the first state to wake up to this," said Pollard. [Emphasis added]
Lawrence presented the committee with facts showing corporal punishment harms children physically and emotionally. Spanking can cause damage to kids' spines, nerves and testes, according to a book on physical punishment Lawrence cited. Spanking can lead to emotional, social and learning problems, according to a report she referenced. Lawrence said in her statement, "It is our duty as responsible adults to act with their interests in mind and grant them legal protection from assault."
The bill states it is not intended to separate kids from their parents, but is meant to encourage alternate forms of discipline. [Emphasis added]
Brookline's Ron Goldman, a doctor who fought for the measure that passed Brookline's Town Meeting, also backs the bill filed by Marzilli. The nonbinding resolution that passed in Brookline on May 26 encourages parents and caregivers not to use corporal punishment. The Brookline resolution is thought to be the first of its kind in the nation.
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