Paddling Bill Defeated in Assembly Panel : Legislation: Proposal to punish graffiti vandals is rejected by one vote. Speaker Brown talked Democratic co-author into changing his position.


Despite intense election-year pressure to appear tough on crime, a deeply divided Assembly committee rejected a bill Wednesday that would have allowed juvenile court judges to punish youthful graffiti vandals with as many as 10 whacks from a wooden paddle.

The Assembly Ways and Means Committee voted 11-11 on the measure, authored by Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange), failing by the slimmest of margins to muster the dozen votes needed for the bill to escape the 23-member committee.

Conroy expressed confidence late in the afternoon that the bill--inspired by the highly publicized caning of American teen-ager Michael Fay, who was convicted of spray-painting cars in Singapore--would win the necessary support.

But it died after Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and other Democratic leaders pulled aside Assemblyman H. Willard Murray Jr. (D-Paramount), a co-author of Conroy’s bill, and persuaded him to switch his vote just before the committee adjourned.


“We got speakerized,” Conroy said, using the term coined to reflect Brown’s ability to sway the votes of errant Democrats. “This is a textbook example of how the Democrats are able to bottle up good legislation.”

Murray said he still supports Conroy’s measure but decided to switch after Brown and other top Democrats told him it was a “wedge bill” designed to be used in the upcoming elections to embarrass Democrats who vote against the paddling proposal.

“I think it became a partisan issue, so being a good team player, I went along with what they wanted,” Murray said. “There were a number of Democratic members, six or eight, who asked me to change my vote. . . . I won’t lose a great deal of sleep over it.”

Conroy’s proposal received nationwide publicity in the weeks after he suggested that judges be allowed to order parents or court bailiffs to administer four to 10 strokes with a three-quarter-inch-thick wooden paddle to convicted graffiti vandals.


Conroy began pursuing the idea after he was prodded by constituents and staff members caught up in the highly publicized debate over the Singapore case. Fay, an 18-year-old high school senior from Dayton, Ohio, received four strokes from a rattan cane May 5 after being found guilty of vandalism in the island nation.

Conroy’s bill also would have required publicizing the names of juvenile offenders who were paddled, a tactic designed to heighten humiliation and deter would-be taggers. In addition, the measure contained a sunset clause that would have required the Legislature to renew its approval after paddling was given a three-year trial run.

Brown said the paddling bill “met its appropriate fate” and that, with politicians whipped up by election-year fervor over crime, it represented a “terrible way to make public policy.”