STINGING

02.19.14

Kansas Lawmaker Would Let Parents Legally Bruise Their Children

Corporal punishment is already legal, but a Democrat wants to amend the law to allow harder spankings by parents, caregivers, and teachers. Who asked for this?

All parents at one time or another have struggled with how to rein in an unruly child. Now, a Kansas lawmaker is trying to make it easier for parents, caregivers, and teachers to discipline misbehaving kids by creating a virtual how-to for corporal punishment—and bruising is on the list.

Schools spankings are already legal in Kansas and 18 other states. Current law allows for corporal punishment that doesn’t leave marks. But Democratic State Rep. Gail Finney says the law doesn’t do enough to protect disciplinarians.

Finney’s proposed bill amends current law to define acceptable forms of corporal punishment as “up to ten forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child and any such reasonable physical force on the child as may be necessary to hold, restrain or control the child in the course of maintaining authority over the child, acknowledging that redness or bruising may occur on the tender skin of a child as a result.”

Finney says her bill was enacted at the request of McPherson County Assistant District Attorney Britt Colle and is aimed at “very defiant” children who aren’t “minding their parents [or] school personnel.” She says that current law is ambiguous and dangerous to well-meaning parents.

In a statement responding to the bill’s blowback, Finney says, “The lack of an unambiguous statutory definition of parental corporal discipline has led to the inconsistent application of administrative child in need of care (CINC) enforcement and criminal charges, allowing some clear instances of child abuse to go un-prosecuted and un-abated and other clear instances of parental corporal discipline to result in administration officials removing children from the home and / or criminal charges against parents.”

Up to ten forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child.

But do parents and teachers really need protecting? Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett told Kansas.com that the child abuse law is clear enough as is and parents and teachers aren’t being persecuted for spanking. “We don’t arrest people for giving their kid a swat on the behind,” Bennett said.

“I’ve been doing this for 19 years now, and there’s no ‘redness rule’ or ‘10-strike rule’ or ‘closed-fist rule’ in Kansas law. I don’t know, frankly, what’s driving this.”

The move in state legislatures and the home toward sparing the rod makes the push for escalation of force in Kansas all the more strange. Though spanking is still the norm in the U.S., a heavy hand isn’t as popular as it used to be, according to recent polling. Two-thirds of parents said they spanked their kids in a 2013 poll—down from 80 percent in 1995. And the rejection increases the younger the generation. Twenty-eight percent of people under age 36 (the most likely to have young children in school facing these spankings) say corporal punishment is never appropriate, compared to 18 percent of people 37-48 and 15 percent of those 49-67. 

Those parents and caregivers looking forward to more leeway in their lickings shouldn’t get too excited. The bill seems unlikely to pass. The House Corrections Committee Chairman John Rubin has said he might not even bring it up this year. But that won’t stop Finney from her bruise cruise—she says she’ll reintroduce the bill during the next session.