Mass. Considers Outlawing Spanking

GENERIC: Kids, Punishment, Spanking, Hitting, Hand, Boy
CBS/AP
A bill that would prohibit parents from spanking their children is being criticized as unnecessary and unenforceable by many Massachusetts lawmakers.

The measure - being heard Wednesday by a legislative committee - defines corporal punishment as "the willful infliction of physical pain or injurious or humiliating treatment." State legislator Jay Kaufman said he submitted the bill at the request of nurse Kathleen Wolf.

"I could remember as a 10-year-old kid and being in a family where there was a lot corporal punishment and thinking, 'Why isn't anyone doing anything?'" Wolf told CBS station WBZ-TV.

"We need to have a serious public conversation, not about spanking - that's not what this is about - but where people cross the line and abuse their children," Kaufman told the station.

Several lawmakers counter that parents are best able to decide on discipline, and point out that state law already bans the physical abuse or neglect of children.

"This bill is really designed to begin a process of dialogue, a conversation about spanking, because I think our society is moving further away from physical violence as a solution to problems in general," psychologist Teresa Whitehurst, who helped Wolf draft the bill, said on CBS News' The Early Show.

"I would not use the word 'abuse,' because I think most parent who spank have a very good goal, which is setting limits and trying to get their children to have good values," Whitehurst said.

The state's highest court ruled in 1999 that parents could spank their children, so long as it doesn't cause serious bodily harm.

"There are always going to be some (parents) who use implements, such as belt, switches, sticks. I've seen extension cords used, that sort of thing," Whitehurst told Early Show co-anchor Russ Mitchell.

Some lawmakers question how police could possibly enforce such a ban. And some parents, reports WBZ's Dawn Hasbrouck, question whether the government should tell them where that line is and how they should raise their kids.

"The state has always had rights in this area" such as "child safety seats in cars," said Whitehurst. "We're not saying parents can't make choices. We're just saying let's move toward nonviolent methods."

The legislature has ended formal sessions for 2007, so the earliest the bill could be debated would be next year.