Dear Texas Legislator:
I was a founder and president of Citizens Against Physical Punishment, an organization whose purpose was to help abolish corporal punishment of children.
There is a very disturbing bill, HB 374, that is in the Senate Jurisprudence Committee at the time of this writing.
HB 374, authored by Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston, originally was directed at parents. It's purpose was to reassure them that they have the right to use "reasonable" corporal punishment on their children. Now, HB 374 has now been amended to give "others," in addition to parents, the right to corporally punish children. That means baby sitters, scout leaders, summer camp leaders, schools, and on and on. The amendment does not even require those who wish to smack or whip a child to get permission from the parent. WOW! Talk about abuse! It will skyrocket if this crazy bill becomes law.
The word "reasonable" is subjective. It opens the door to severe whippings that can cause bruises, fever, blood in the urine, and a trip to the pediatrician. The net effect of such vague and subjective terminology is to make prosecutors extremely reluctant to charge a crime, except if a child is hospitalized or killed.
Schoolchildren are even at a worse disadvantage because abusive schoolteachers are shielded from civil suits that would surely arise when children are injured as a result of corporal punishment.
Amazingly, Rep. Dutton is not satisfied with existing laws (which already are vague and indifferently enforced) but, by offering HB 374, his intention apparently is to further erode children's meager legal protection against abuse by reassuring abusers that they won't get into trouble.
Child Protective Services confirmed 12,800 cases of physical abuse in Texas last year. And it is impossible to estimate how many thousands went unreported. Only a few days ago, on May 13, a four-year-old girl named Destiny received an "old fashioned whipping" from her grandmother, as Texas law allows. Now, little Destiny will never smell the lovely Texas Bluebonnets or listen to the inspiring song written by Texas Governor W. Lee O'Daniel entitled, "Beautiful Texas." She will never visit the Historic Alamo or play on the beautiful beaches of Padre Island or the Galveston Beaches. She will never see our state capitol building where you folks work, or be able to shake your hand. The only reason we know about her is because she died at Metroplex Hospital in Killeen on the day of her whipping.
We have been warned about this for years, ever since Dr. David Gil of Brandeis University was commissioned by Health, Education, and Welfare to do a national study to determine what was causing the high incidence of child abuse and how to stop it. His conclusion was that the approval of corporal punishment by society influences people to use it. And that leads to... Destiny.
Please vote HB 374 out of existence before it hurts someone. Then, if you want to author a law that will enhance the quality of life for all Texans - adults and children alike - it should be one to unequivocally outlaw all corporal punishment. You might consider naming it "Destiny's Law."
2015 Whitedove Drive
Dallas, TX 75224
Texas Senate Jurisprudence Committee: http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/commit/c550/c550.htm
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