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Gail Finney: Bill tries to define discipline

  • Published Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, at 12 a.m.

Over the course of the past week, I have received an overwhelming response – both positive and negative – to a particular measure that I introduced during the fifth week of the current legislative session. The measure, which was called by many in the press the “spanking bill,” would clearly define and express corporal discipline in Kansas statute. It would not, however, permit child abuse or expand the current definition of corporal discipline in our state, as was incorrectly reported by some of the national media.

Corporal discipline has been accepted in Kansas under our state’s common law since the founding of our state. Parents have long been permitted to exercise their fundamental right to rear their children, whether that method of child rearing includes corporal discipline or not.

Kansas statutes, however, are silent on corporal discipline. The law for corporal discipline is embodied in generations of case law published by the courts, providing for enormous differences in opinion and in application with regard to what constitutes permissible corporal discipline and impermissible child abuse. The impact of the enormous differences of opinion regarding the permissible and the impermissible has led to a disparate application of the law. This ambiguity is leading to an unequal protection of the law in Kansas – a violation of our state and federal constitutions’ requirement of “equal protection of the laws.”

The legislation I introduced sought to statutorily define and clearly express the difference between permissible corporal discipline and impermissible child abuse for the protection of children, parents and other caregivers of children, and to provide more direction to child welfare officials, law enforcement and the judiciary for more even application and equal outcomes.

The measure was an expression of the current common law that exists today in Kansas; it neither constricted nor expanded the definition of corporal discipline or child abuse as it currently exists in Kansas law. It only sought to take a judicially created law and make it a legislatively expressed statute.

Gail Finney is a Democratic state representative from District 84 in Wichita.

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