Politics & Government

Spanking bill dies in Kansas House committee

Looking direct up front he first floor of the Kansas State House in the the rotunda.  (January 22, 2014)
Looking direct up front he first floor of the Kansas State House in the the rotunda. (January 22, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

A bill intended to define corporal punishment and ease some restrictions on spanking in Kansas has died in committee.

An official with Rep. John Rubin’s office said Wednesday that the bill “will not get a hearing” in the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. Rubin, R-Shawnee, is chairman of the committee.

House Bill 2699, introduced by Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, would have allowed parents to hit children hard enough to leave redness or bruising. It also would have allowed parents to give permission to others, including caregivers or teachers, to spank their children.

In a statement posted on her website, Finney said the legislation “is not, as has been incorrectly reported, intended to legalize child abuse in Kansas.”

“Parental corporal discipline in Kansas, along with 49 other states, has always been permitted,” Finney said in the statement. “Unfortunately, Kansas has never affirmatively, expressly defined corporal discipline in Kansas statute, leaving the interpretation of that matter to administrative officials in the executive branch, law enforcement personnel, and the judicial branch.”

She said the bill was intended to “provide guidance to officials … serve as a guideline to parents, and protect children from abuse.”

Finney said she submitted the bill at the request of McPherson County Assistant District Attorney Britt Colle because law enforcement officials, attorneys, judges, parents, school officials and others “have expressed confusion regarding the ambiguity of Kansas law regarding lawful parental corporal discipline and unlawful child abuse.”

Colle did not return calls for comment.

“This legislation only seeks a consistent application of parental corporal discipline across all of Kansas’ 105 counties,” Finney said in the statement.

Current Kansas law allows spanking, but it does not spell out whether a parent can leave red marks or bruise a child. It also does not specify whether a parent can strike a child with a belt, wooden paddle or other object.

Abuse of a child, a felony, is defined in the criminal code as “torturing or cruelly beating” a child, shaking that results in bodily harm, or “inflicting cruel and inhuman corporal punishment.”

The proposed legislation on spanking, House Bill 2699, would define corporal punishment as “up to 10 forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child.”

The bill also would allow “reasonable physical force” to restrain a child during a spanking, and would acknowledge “that redness or bruising may occur on the tender skin of a child as a result.”

Because it spells out the manner in which a parent could strike a child, the proposed law would ban hitting a child with fists, in the head, or with a belt or switch.

Kansas law requires teachers, doctors, counselors and other mandatory reporters to inform either local law enforcement or the Kansas Protection Reporting Center if they suspect a child has been abused. Redness or bruising could raise suspicions, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said, but investigating such instances “doesn’t mean that a child-in-need-of-care case is going to be opened or that somebody is going to be charged,” he said.

Responding to Finney’s bill this week, Bennett said: “At some point, you’ve got to allow for some reasonable application of the law. You have to trust law enforcement officials and/or social work officials to exercise some discretion in recognizing what is just a spank on the bottom versus cruel beating or torture.”

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