Members of the Kansas Legislature, you need a time out.
The state that was once so justly celebrated for its progressive tradition has been trying hard to legislate the past back into existence.
Last week, for instance, following what many call "the gayest year in gay history," the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill that would effectively legalize discrimination against gay couples. Thankfully, the state Senate is not looking kindly on the measure, which would allow shop owners, landlords and government employees who don’t approve of same-sex relationships to simply refuse to serve or accommodate gay couples.
This week, a Democratic lawmaker from Wichita introduced a measure that would amend Kansas law to allow parents, teachers and other adults to avoid child abuse investigations or prosecutions after they wallop children hard enough to leave bruises or red marks.
According to the Wichita Eagle, Rep. Gail Finney, a 54-year-old mother of three grown sons, is hoping to “restore parental rights” and “protect parents who spank their children from being charged with child abuse.”
If Finney’s amendment to current law is accepted — a dubious proposition — acceptable corporal punishment would be defined 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.”
She defines “child” as including even “a person over the age of 18 who is enrolled in high school.”
It’s grotesque enough to think about a great big authority figure smacking a small child 10 times and leaving bruises on his or her bottom. But imagine a law that gives a green light to smacking teenagers and young adults?
While parents may debate the merits of a gentle tap on the behind — and yes, they still do — we certainly have plenty of evidence that spanking only models violence.
In April 2012, the Monitor on Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Assn. published a story called “The Case Against Spanking.” Researchers uniformly said spanking does not help children learn discipline or self control.
“We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work,” Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, told the Monitor. “You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want.”
But Finney seems to think that Kansas is in the middle of a child behavior crisis, and that adults need to be able to use physical force without fear of reprisal.
“What’s happening is there are some children that are very defiant and they’re not minding their parents, they’re not minding school personnel,” Finney explained to the Eagle on Tuesday.
Fortunately, Kansas children will probably be spared this wrongheaded law. But how will the reputation of Kansas fare? Oh, I think this is gonna leave a mark.