SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A Democratic lawmaker has abandoned her heavily ridiculed campaign to make spanking a crime, acknowledging that the idea would get whacked even in California's sometimes whimsical Legislature.
Instead, San Francisco Bay area Assemblywoman Sally Lieber introduced a more narrow bill on Thursday she said would help district attorneys more easily prosecute parents who cross the line from punishment into physical abuse.
Lieber is seeking to classify a laundry list of physical acts against young children, including hitting with a belt, switch or stick, as unjustifiable and grounds for prosecution, probation or a parental time-out — a class on nonviolent parenting.
Spanking a child on the buttocks — even to the point of injury — will remain legal in California, Lieber said.
"Clearly, I take exception with that part of the law, but the votes are simply not there" to change it, Lieber said, facing a bank of eight television cameras and the largest media spotlight the soft-spoken Democrat has ever encountered.
Some conservatives criticized Lieber's amended bill as no better than the idea she floated weeks ago.
Assemblyman Chuck Devore, an Irvine Republican, said the wording might be too specific, including objects such as belts but not others that could be used to strike children. He said the bill also could lead to parents being improperly prosecuted.
"Are we in danger of unintended consequences where loving parents might have their children taken away from them and we cause more harm than good?" he said.
Devore said input from police officers and prosecutors will be crucial.
Until last month, Lieber was perhaps best known for authoring the state's minimum-wage increase.
Lieber, who has no children, attracted nationwide attention after she pledged to introduce an anti-spanking bill to protect children from violence. Her idea was even the subject of a "Saturday Night Live" parody.
Conservative and family values groups lashed out at her proposal, charging that criminalizing spanking epitomized overbearing "nanny" government.
If passed, it would classify most physical harm to children as unjustified. That would reverse the current principle under which judges and juries are asked to decide whether physical abuse that begins as discipline is justified.