SACRAMENTO, Calif. Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, a Democrat who drew national headlines last year for introducing a bill that would make it a crime for parents to spank their children, is taking another swat at corporal punishment.
This time, Lieber, who represents the Bay Area community of Mountain View, stopped short of an outright ban, but is promoting a bill, AB 2943, that would define the use of switches or paddles as child abuse. Other "implements" specifically mentioned in the law include belts, sticks, shoes, rods, switches, electrical cords and brooms. The bill's language would also make it illegal to spank any child under the age of 3. Violators could face up to one year in jail.
Pro-family advocates argue that the law fails to clearly define the difference between discipline and child abuse.
Roy M. Hanson Jr. with the Child and Family Protection Association chastised Lieber's intent in a joint statement he released April 8 with the Home School Legal Defense League.
"It would have the practical effect of making a non-injurious spanking with an object such as a ruler, folded newspaper, small paddle, etc., illegal," he said. "After being arrested, charged, and tried in a criminal court, parents could receive up to one year in jail and lose custody of their children. When Lieber claims that her bill only deals with child abuse, remember that she has stated repeatedly that all spanking, by definition, is child abuse."
Everett Rice, legislative coordinator for California Family Council, said it's imperative that society protects children, but the legislation defies common sense.
"No one is in favor of child abuse, and our society must do everything in its power to prevent violence toward children," Rice said in a statement. "But the way this bill is written, a legitimate spanking can be equated with cutting a child. The accepted use of a swat with a hand could be construed as child abuse."
Concerned Women for America, in its online analysis of the bill, said the bill carries serious penalties, including a mandatory minimum of two years probation, successful completion of a nonviolent parental education class or no less than one year of a child abusers counseling treatment program and a court protective order for the victim and possible loss of custody for the parent.
If probation is not granted, the penalty is up to one year in county jail or two, four or six years in state prison.
"Unfortunately, rather than target only those egregious circumstances that are clearly abusive, AB 2943 is so broadly worded that it criminalizes even the act of spanking a child in order to correct inappropriate behavior," the assessment read. "This infringes on parental rights and could be used to punish parents in their proper role of using reasonable corporal punishment in disciplining their children."