01-19) 04:00 PST Sacramento
-- A Bay Area lawmaker said Thursday she will introduce a bill next week that seeks to make California the first state in the nation to ban spanking children who are 3 years old and younger.
The legislation would make the violation a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.
"I think we ought to have a law against beating children," said Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View.
The lawmaker said she conceived of the idea after chatting with an acquaintance who is a legal expert on child abuse. While California would be the first state to adopt such a measure if it becomes law, it wouldn't be the first in the world. There are already 15 countries -- mostly in Europe -- that have banned hitting children.
In an interview with The Chronicle, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was unfamiliar with the bill but had an immediate question about its practicality.
"How do you enforce that?" he asked.
One lawmaker in the Assembly simply objected to the idea of legislating how parents can discipline their kids.
"To me, this is symptomatic of this nonstop trend toward a nanny state," said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine. "The government appears to be taking it on itself to be everybody's parent, everybody's big brother, and to legislate the tiniest details of personal family life."
Besides, there are already laws on the books that make it illegal to abuse a child, he said.
Lois Weithorn, who teaches family law at UC's Hastings College of the Law, said while there are both civil and criminal statutes addressing child abuse, there is room for subjectivity on what constitutes abuse.
"There are laws on the books, but corporal punishment has always been a challenge to deal with," she said. "Most jurisdictions do not sanction parents (for) corporal punishment that doesn't result in physical injury."
That's the reason we need a law that clearly delineates what is legal or not, Lieber said.
"Under current law, parents can beat their children to a reasonable degree," she said. "I just think that that's plain wrong and we ought to ban any sort of physical attack on children who are not old enough to defend themselves."
But Weithorn said even Lieber's bill could potentially be open to interpretation, such as what is spanking versus a pat on the bottom.
"We're dealing with the challenge of drawing lines," the law professor said.
Dr. Carol Miller, clinical professor of pediatrics at UCSF Medical Center, said she agrees corporal punishment for babies and toddlers is not appropriate. She encourages parents to make expectations appropriate and clear.
"You remove them from the place that is off-limits and at the same time, you have to use (spoken) language, your body language such as a stern look in your face to let them know that was inappropriate," Miller said. "And at that developmental age, you have to do that over and over and over again."
She questioned the idea of making spanking a crime that could potentially result in jail time. "I'm not quite sure how that helps the parent be a better parent," Miller said. "Separating a child from the parent ... (could potentially be) very destructive."