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Domestic CP - February 2003

Texas Observer, Austin, 14 February 2003

Bad Bills: 2/14/2003

Beat 'em Up, Teach 'em Virtue

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Parenting

HB 374 -- Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. (D-Houston)

It's a dangerous world out there, especially for children. Kids are committing serious crimes at earlier ages. Too many spend their lives in and out of prison. Fortunately, Rep. Dutton, the new Juvenile Justice & Family Issues chairman has a solution: Beat the crap out of 'em.

Corporal punishment for "reasonable discipline" of a child by the parent is already legal in Texas (as it is in every state but Minnesota). But that isn't enough, argues Dutton. He wants to make sure everybody knows it. "I think giving parents the idea that they can use corporal punishment will result in a moral, better society," he says.

Non-corporal punishments, like timeouts or restricting privileges, aren't harsh enough to teach children the consequences of their actions, argues Dutton. It doesn't matter that studies of corporal punishment contradict him. In a 2002 Psychological Bulletin review of 62 years of corporal punishment research, Columbia University psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff concludes that corporal punishment is not an effective way to discipline children, and for some children it can actually be harmful and lead to aggressive behavior.

Dutton dismisses these findings. Personal experience tells him the data is wrong. "My dad used to take a strap to me and go at me pretty good. If it causes violence, I'd be a mass murderer."

Dutton's bill would add the following to the Parental Rights and Duties chapter of the Family Code: "A parent may use corporal punishment for the reasonable discipline of the parent's child." UT psychology professor George Holden flags the undefined terms "corporal punishment" and "reasonable discipline" as problems. "I'd be very concerned that would give people a lot of license," he says. "The key here is what is 'reasonable.' This type of case has been brought to the courts by child advocates because it's often used to justify child abuse."

Dutton feels specific definitions are unnecessary because parents can draw the line between discipline and abuse. "Parents have to be responsible about the decisions they make about their children," he says. And in cases of suspected abuse, he cautions that the state should focus on what the child did to deserve the punishment, not the punishment itself. "Do we examine the question on the basis of the bruise [the parent inflicts] or examine the [child's] behavior that led to it?" Dutton asks. "I say we look at the behavior."

Dutton wants his bill to "provide an affirmative defense" against allegations of abuse for parents who use corporal punishment. Break out the brass knuckles! Last year in Texas, Child Protective Services confirmed 74,199 cases of child abuse and neglect, 12,800 of which were cases of physical abuse. CPS doesn't have specific data on the perpetrators of physical abuse, but 76.6 percent of the perpetrators in all abuse and neglect cases were parents.


Bad Bills are compiled by the Observer's Bad Bills Girl, who rises vampire-like from hibernation every two years to suck the blood from vile or absurd state legislation.
Copyright 2001 Texas Democracy Foundation. All rights reserved.

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