Delaware parents better think twice before they spank their children. A new bill passed earlier this month redefines the term “physical injury” in the child abuse and neglect laws to broadly mean "any impairment of physical condition or pain."
The controversial Bill 234, sponsored by Delaware's Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins and passed by Governor Jack Markell, created three levels of child abuse.
Under the new legislation, the first and second degrees are considered felonies, and penalties increase if the victim is under four years old or suffers from developmental disabilities.
Parents who cause pain to a child under the age of 18 would be charged with a class A misdemeanor and serve up to one year in prison. A parent who causes physical injury to a child under the age of three would be charged with a class G felony and subjected to two years in prison.
The vagueness of the definition of "physical injury" has many Delaware parents nervous in that it grants the government too much freedom to interpret the law as it sees fit. The law has ignited a debate over the state's rights to interfere in personal parenting choices.
Attorney General Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden and proponent of the legislation, claims that taking away parental rights isn't the aim of the law. He told WDEL News Talk Radio;
"This will not do anything to interfere with a parent's right or ability to parent as they see fit, but it also makes it clear that if you abuse a child in any way, shape, or form, we're going to have a statute that we're going to be able to use to protect kids."
Officials say the law will help prosecutors win cases involving babies, toddlers and disabled children who are unable to describe what happened to them.
Many skeptics question why the bill didn't include a clause to protect parents who choose to spank their children. Patricia Dailey-Lewis, of the Attorney General's Office, told Delaware WBOC news that it's a complicated issue.
If we said it's okay to spank your child, and then we have a child who ends up dead from spanking, well, gee, we didn't mean that, we didn't mean kill. We didn't mean break their arm. It's such a vague area.
Despite the insistence from lawmakers, the law has come under fire from The Home School Legal Defense Association, along with the Delaware Home Education Association and the Delaware Family Policy. They claim the bill is “a violation of the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, including the long-recognized right to administer reasonable corporal discipline.”
In response to the backlash, Lewis claims the Attorney General's Office will create an ad campaign to inform the public of what is reasonable discipline and what is not.
"I believe that people understand in their heart the difference between abuse and discipline," she said.
Do you think that Bill 234 gives the state too much control over parental rights? Is spanking an effective form of discipline or should it be banned?
Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.