Lee Spiller: "There's no clear evidence physical punishment doesn't work... If they're getting absolutely physically injured, then the state should step in."
It's a topic that parents have wrestled with for years. Now the Texas Legislature's weighed in on the debate.
Lawmakers passed a bill this session to change the state's family code. It would write into law that it's OK for parents to use physical punishment to discipline their kids.
"The legislature sent a clear message and that is that it's up for the parents to decide," Lee Spiller of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights said.
There's no clear evidence physical punishment doesn't work, Spiller said.
"The science isn't in, the verdict isn't in," he said. "The best we can do is leave it up to parents."
But Brigitte Vittrup of The University of Texas Children's Research Lab said the science is in. The lab just completed a nine-month study on spanking.
"Spanking is not the most effective disciplining method long term," Vittrup said.
She fears the bill, which says parents can use "reasonable discipline" on their children, is dangerously vague.
"It doesn't really specify where is the line between punishment and acts that could be considered child abuse," Vittrup said.
She worries the bill could chip away at the state's authority to step in when parents do cross the line.
"If somebody ends up injuring a child because they hit the child too hard, they may end up getting away with it because to them it was reasonable discipline," she said.
Spiller said situations like that require the state's involvement, but the decision to spank is in the parent's hands.
"If they're getting absolutely physically injured, then the state should step in," he said. "But if it's a matter of whether to spank or not to spank, hands off, that's up to the parents to decide."
Telephone Gov. Perry at 1.800.843.5789 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Gov. Rick Perry has until June 20 to sign the bill in order for it to become law.
SEE RELATED: Dialogues with Rep. Harold Dutton, April 2003 - May 2005
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