Lawmaker drops her spanking bill
By Tracy Press/Associated Press, February 23, 2007

Lawmaker drops unpopular effort to ban spanking in California. By AP

SACRAMENTO — A Democratic lawmaker Thursday abandoned her heavily ridiculed campaign to make spanking a crime, acknowledging that the bill, which had become fodder for late-night comedians, would get whacked even in California’s sometimes whimsical Legislature.

Instead, San Francisco Bay-area Assemblywoman Sally Lieber introduced a more narrow bill she said would help district attorneys more easily prosecute parents who cross the line from punishment into physical abuse.

Lieber’s new bill, however, still might not hit the mark with her colleagues.

She is seeking to classify a laundry list of physical acts against young children, including hitting with a belt, switch or stick, as unjustifiable and grounds for prosecution, probation or a parental time-out — a class on nonviolent parenting.

Whether her bill passes or not, spanking a child on the buttocks — even to the point of injury — will remain legal in California, Lieber said.

“Clearly, I take exception with that part of the law, but the votes are simply not there” to change it, Lieber said, facing a bank of eight television cameras and the largest media spotlight the soft-spoken Democrat has ever encountered.

Until last month, the liberal Mountain View lawmaker was perhaps best known for authoring the state’s minimum-wage increase.

Then Lieber, who has no children, attracted overnight, nationwide criticism after she pledged to introduce an anti-spanking bill to protect children and curb violence. Her idea was even the subject of a “Saturday Night Live” parody.

Conservative and family-values groups lashed out at her proposal, charging that criminalizing spanking epitomized overbearing “nanny” government.

Lieber at first delayed introducing her spanking ban plan before finally dropping it Thursday. Lieber said the negative attention did not affect her decision to abandon the bill, which state Democratic leaders also had warned could distract from their more important legislation on global warming and other efforts.

“We welcome the attention _ positive or negative _ because we want to get people talking about it,” Lieber said, noting that several California newspapers that ran editorials blasting her idea also published articles on nonviolent parenting.

If Lieber is lucky, her new bill could become known as the anti-”baby-shaking” bill. The measure would for the first time allow prosecutors to charge baby-shaking as a misdemeanor or felony, even before there is serious injury.

Current law only allows prosecution when baby-shaking causes serious brain damage or death.

Some legal experts questioned whether the bill would add much to what is already on the books in California. But Thomas Nazario, a University of San Francisco law professor who has advocated for greater child protection, said Lieber’s bill would begin to establish a specific line between what’s appropriate discipline from a parent and what is not.

If passed, it would classify most physical harm to children as unjustified, reversing the current principle under which judges and juries are asked to decide whether physical abuse that begins as discipline is justified.

The list of unjustified punishments to children would include: throwing, kicking, burning, or cutting; striking with a closed fist, striking a child under the age of 3 on the face or head; vigorous shaking of a child under the age of 3; interference with a child’s breathing, or threatening a child with a deadly weapon.

“The bill strikes a balance between parental prerogative ... and protecting the most vulnerable children,” Nazario said.

Whether the bill will become law remains to be seen. The bill must first survive committee hearings and then win a majority vote in both the Assembly and Senate before going to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for approval.

Some Republicans immediately blasted Lieber’s new bill as no better than her first try.

Schwarzenegger has not indicated whether he would back it. Last month he hinted that he might be receptive to a spanking bill, but said he has concerns about enforcement.

The governor said he and his wife, Maria Shriver, do not spank their four children and use alternative methods for discipline.

Schwarzenegger said, for example, that they find it more effective to threaten to take away their children’s play time. “They hate that much more than getting spanked,” he told reporters.

Read the bill, AB755, at:



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