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Assembly Rejects Bill on Paddling

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Moderate Republicans in the Assembly broke ranks Tuesday with their conservative colleagues and helped administer a stinging rebuke to a controversial bill repealing the state’s decade-old ban on corporal punishment in the classroom.

Capping an hour of often emotional debate, the Assembly rejected the bill by Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) on a surprisingly decisive 47-19 vote that saw 10 Republicans join in opposition with 36 Democrats and one independent.

Conroy, who gained extraordinary national attention after introducing the measure and a companion bill to allow the paddling of juvenile graffiti vandals, was stunned by the result. He chalked it up to generational differences.

“You had a bunch of young freshman Republicans raised in the 1960s who never knew the benefits of corporal punishment,” Conroy said. “They just didn’t get it.”

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The vote also marked the first time since the Republicans seized firm control of the Assembly leadership in early January that the GOP caucus had frayed on an issue embraced by leaders in the party’s conservative wing, among them new Speaker Curt Pringle of Orange County.

Despite the setback, Conroy said he plans to go forward with a vote in the Assembly today on his measure that would let a judge order a parent to whack a juvenile graffiti vandal up to 10 times with a wooden paddle.

A handful of key GOP moderates--among them Speaker Pro Tem Fred Aguiar of Chino, Assemblymen Jim Cunneen of Cupertino and Brooks Firestone of Los Olivos--joined Democrats in opposing the school paddling bill and drew seven other Republicans with them. A dozen other GOP lawmakers ducked the issue, declining to cast a vote on Conroy’s measure.

Cunneen set the tone early on, glancing at his fellow Republicans as he told them that “this is an issue that is crying out for some common sense.”

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While saying it is “wrong for liberal extremists in our society to somehow equate a parent spanking their child to child abuse,” Cunneen argued that Conroy’s bill would prove just as bad. It would allow, he said, the “de facto transfer of parental authority to bureaucrats” at public schools.

He also suggested that the measure “sends the wrong signal” to California voters eager to see the Legislature take serious steps to solve the state’s daunting fiscal and societal problems.

Democrats, meanwhile, swarmed in opposition. They labeled Conroy’s idea a throwback to a more inhumane age and an intolerable intrusion into matters best left up to parents. They also echoed studies showing that paddling and other forms of humiliating physical punishment teach children the wrong lessons about violence while breeding resentment, embitterment and anger among adolescents.

Opponents also expressed fear that the most authoritarian and cruel teachers would use corporal punishment, which has historically taken the form of paddling, punching, kicking and shaking.

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“Mr. Conroy, shame on you!” lectured Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-Burlingame). “This bill is mean-spirited. This bill is about assault on children in the state of California. . . . Those of you who think corporal punishment returning to the school will solve our problems, wake up.”

She also cited a case of a child in Ohio who was paddled by a teacher for blowing his nose in class. “If a teacher can paddle a kid because they blew their nose the wrong way,” Speier concluded, “we’ve got a sorry state of affairs.”

Conservatives, however, argued that escalating problems in California schools prove that a get-tough approach is needed to gain the upper edge with unruly youths.

“It sends a clear message [to students] that we’re not going to tolerate their mischief anymore,” Assemblyman Gary G. Miller (R-West Covina) said, adding that “we have to change the attitude of young people. Not in a brutal way, but somehow you have to get their attention.”

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Conroy’s measure would not have required districts to practice corporal punishment, but would have given the authority to schools that wanted to reinstitute the practice. The bill would have required school personnel to administer the punishment with another adult present. A parent would have been provided a written explanation and a school would have been required to get written permission before physically punishing a child.


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