A bill proposed by Kansas State Representative Gail Finney (D) that would have provided specific corporal punishment guidelines to parents, teachers and caregivers has received a resounding spanking of its own by the committee on House Corrections and Juvenile Justice. House Bill 2699 by the Wichita Democrat Finney will not even receive a hearing even though she claims it was intended to prevent child abuse, rather than condone undue physical force against children.
The language of the bill was controversial because, unlike current Kansas law, which does allow for corporal punishment, House Bill 2699 laid out specific guidelines on how to spank children including providing the authority to spank forcefully up to ten times with an open hand on the “clothed buttocks” of a child. The bill did prohibit the use of the fist in such applications and acknowledged that the child might sustain minor injuries including red welts and bruising. Current Kansas corporal punishment regulations do allow children to be spanked, but do not expressly condone or prohibit a level of force that leaves marks on the child.
The bill also gave permission for the use of “reasonable” force to restrain a child in order to facilitate the spanking. However, “reasonable” was not defined in the bill. With the term open to interpretation, logic dictates that therein lies an opportunity for abuse.
Included in the bill was language forbidding the striking of a child in the head or spanking them with an object. Objects that have commonly been used to spank children include household items such as belts, hair brushes, paddles and clothes hangers all of which would be illegal to wield for disciplinary purposes under the new bill.
The bill called out criminal code regarding child abuse in the form of torture or the cruel beating of any child under the age of 18 years. It is worth noting that the definition of “child” in the bill included people over the age of 18 who were still enrolled in high school. Allowing corporal punishment in cases of an otherwise legal adult except for student status seems counterintuitive and complications of a sexual nature could arise.
Even with the explicitly stated restrictions on the allowed and disallowed techniques and targets of corporal punishment, the House Committee was not in support of the bill as is evidenced by their decision to deny it a hearing.
Representative Finney has released a statement making it clear that her intentions were not to promote corporal punishment per se, but to clarify to parents, teachers and caregivers what was acceptable and not acceptable when spanking children. She called the current Kansas law “ambiguous” and charged that it has allowed some instances of abuse to go un-prosecuted. She also expressed concern for Kansas parents that have lost custody of their children and in some cases faced criminal charges because of their spanking methods and various applications of force, which may or may not have been abusive.
Representative Finney was influenced by McPherson County Assistant District Attorney Britt Colle in the crafting of House Bill 2699 and he is in favor of stronger family discipline. Finney claims that her corporal punishment bill was not only designed to “maintain authority” it was motivated by a desire to ensure “consistent application of parental corporal discipline” across the state of Kansas. It is likely that Finney, after her concerted efforts in introducing the bill did not expect it to be spanked by the committee on House Corrections and Juvenile Justice.
By Alana Marie Burke
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