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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Sticking with crime and punishment in California, if local lawmaker Sally Lieber has her way, spanking small children would be outlawed.

The Democratic Assemblywoman is proposing a bill that would make swatting a child three years old and under illegal. The punishment for parents or other adults would be a maximum one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Assemblywoman Sally Lieber is on the line now from her office in Mountain View, California. Welcome to the show.

Assemblywoman SALLY LIEBER (Democrat, California State Assembly): Thank you.

BRAND: Well, what would qualify as spanking?

Assemblywoman LIEBER: Well, what we're seeing with this bill is that any corporal punishment of a child three years old or under would be illegal. So that would include any punishment that is intended to cause physical pain.

BRAND: Can you be more specific?

Assemblywoman LIEBER: Well, it would include swatting, smacking, slapping, spanking, and we all wish that there's a line in the law that separates discipline of a child from child abuse. But this is a very gray area in the law, in fact. And those caring for children are only prohibited from using punishments that are unjustifiable. So the pediatricians, the family law judges, the prosecutors are all seeing children that are beaten black and blue, and yet criminal defendants walk.

BRAND: Well, some child experts say that, in fact, some kind of swatting - a light swat, a light tap can be an effective tool. Let's say if a child is doing something quite dangerous, like running into a crowded street, for example. Would that be illegal under your bill?

Assemblywoman LIEBER: If it it's simply restraint of a child, pulling them out of a dangerous situation, no, absolutely not.

BRAND: But the swat part - the little swat on the butt. Would that be illegal?

Assemblywoman LIEBER: Hitting a child three years old or younger would be.

BRAND: Even if it's a light swat, a tap?

Assemblywoman LIEBER: Well, we all want to believe that all parents are giving a light swat or a tap and using physical discipline very sparingly. They're doing it once in a blue moon. But unfortunately, there are parents and caregivers who are slapping and hitting and spanking many, many times a day and for almost anything.

BRAND: But I understand that, but how do you - how would you differentiate? How do you delineate between the two?

Assemblywoman LIEBER: There isn't really a way to delineate. And that's why any hitting of a child, any physical punishment that's intended to cause pain would be banned under our bill. What we're trying to stop are the perpetual users of physical discipline. And if the responsible parents have to give up a privilege to use physical punishment on infants and toddlers to stop those who are using it perpetually, then we think that's worthwhile.

BRAND: People, I understand, are upset at the idea of the government interfering in parenting decisions.

Assemblywoman LIEBER: Absolutely. And it really leads me to believe that this issue is at the same place that domestic violence was 20 or 30 years ago, when that was considered to be something that was private, within a marriage, between a husband and a wife, and not something that government should play a role in or that people should be aware of. And so I think that everything indicates that this is a very reasonable way to have a less violent society, to try to have more use of conflict resolution and hopefully to have a more peaceful future.

BRAND: Assemblywoman Sally Lieber is proposing legislation that would outlaw spanking children, three years old and under in California. And Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, thank you for joining us.

Assemblywoman LIEBER: Thank you.

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