Bad Bills

Beat 'em Up, Teach 'em Virtue


Spare the Rod, Spoil the Parenting


HB 374

Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. (D-Houston)

It’s a dangerous world out there, especially for children. Kids are committing serious crimes at earlier ages. Too many spend their lives in and out of prison. Fortunately, Rep. Dutton, the new Juvenile Justice & Family Issues chairman has a solution: Beat the crap out of ’em.

Corporal punishment for “reasonable discipline” of a child by the parent is already legal in Texas (as it is in every state but Minnesota). But that isn’t enough, argues Dutton. He wants to make sure everybody knows it. “I think giving parents the idea that they can use corporal punishment will result in a moral, better society,” he says.

Non-corporal punishments, like timeouts or restricting privileges, aren’t harsh enough to teach children the consequences of their actions, argues Dutton. It doesn’t matter that studies of corporal punishment contradict him. In a 2002 Psychological Bulletin review of 62 years of corporal punishment research, Columbia University psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff concludes that corporal punishment is not an effective way to discipline children, and for some children it can actually be harmful and lead to aggressive behavior.

Dutton dismisses these findings. Personal experience tells him the data is wrong. “My dad used to take a strap to me and go at me pretty good. If it causes violence, I’d be a mass murderer.”

Dutton’s bill would add the following to the Parental Rights and Duties chapter of the Family Code: “A parent may use corporal punishment for the reasonable discipline of the parent’s child.” UT psychology professor George Holden flags the undefined terms “corporal punishment” and “reasonable discipline” as problems. “I’d be very concerned that would give people a lot of license,” he says. “The key here is what is ‘reasonable.’ This type of case has been brought to the courts by child advocates because it’s often used to justify child abuse.”

Dutton feels specific definitions are unnecessary because parents can draw the line between discipline and abuse. “Parents have to be responsible about the decisions they make about their children,” he says. And in cases of suspected abuse, he cautions that the state should focus on what the child did to deserve the punishment, not the punishment itself. “Do we examine the question on the basis of the bruise [the parent inflicts] or examine the [child’s] behavior that led to it?” Dutton asks. “I say we look at the behavior.”

Dutton wants his bill to “provide an affirmative defense” against allegations of abuse for parents who use corporal punishment. Break out the brass knuckles! Last year in Texas, Child Protective Services confirmed 74,199 cases of child abuse and neglect, 12,800 of which were cases of physical abuse. CPS doesn’t have specific data on the perpetrators of physical abuse, but 76.6 percent of the perpetrators in all abuse and neglect cases were parents.

Virtue Rudely Strumpeted Again

HB 166

Rep. Bob Griggs (R-North Richland Hills)

As if public school teachers and students didn’t have enough to deal with this session–like, say, no funding for new reading programs or the possible loss of teachers’ health insurance–a bill by Rep. Bob Griggs, would rewrite every lesson plan in Texas to include a “virtue’s component.”

“The idea isn’t to have a certain class or time where the component is taught,” says Chris Bell, Griggs’ legislative director. “It would be integrated into as much of the regular curriculum as possible.”

The curriculum Griggs proposes is based on a list of 31 alphabetically listed virtues, including diligence, faith, purity, and reverence. (According to Bell, this last is the secular, graduation-ceremony-national-anthem-half-time-of-the-Super-Bowl type of reverence. Still, it’s hard to imagine that some school districts here in God’s Country won’t use this as a platform to push fundamentalism.)

In turn, by some hazy formula perhaps known only to Griggs and God, the 31 original virtues recombine to form a smaller sub-list of so-called characteristics of good citizenship, including loyalty, and obedience, and so on.

In the Birdville Independent School District–where Griggs was superintendent for nearly ten years, and where curriculum has been virtuous since 1999–virtues are personified by historical figures like Eleanor Roosevelt (“Humility”) and Nelson Mandela (“Patience”) in classes from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Note that not only do those choices seem questionable–after all, if Mandela had been really patient we’d still have apartheid in South Africa–but the virtues chosen are strictly the passive, nondisruptive kind. “Informed dissent” and “civil disobedience,” for instance, don’t make the list.

While most of the brainwashing goes on in social studies, history, and government classes, teachers of other subjects are enjoined to reinforce a selected “virtue of the month,” presumably finding creative ways to work “forgiveness” and “discretion” into geometry lessons and band practice.

Teaching “caring” and “fairness” to school kids doesn’t sound all bad — though Birdsville’s teaching objectives, that include “analyze the contributions of leaders such as Phil Gramm,” may raise a few eyebrows. Scarier by far is the curriculum’s relentless narrowing and standardization of exactly what it means to be a “good citizen” as reflected in this bill. Moreover, the bill would tie schools’ state funding to the curriculum change; districts would get one dollar for every student who attends 90 percent of the district’s classes that include the virtuous curriculum.

Bills as dumb as this one generally die in committee, but with the legislature now firmly in the hands of the virtuous, it’ll be interesting to see how far HB 166 gets.

It’s Coming Up Roses

HB 385

Rep. Dianne Delisi (R-Temple)

State Representative and Master Gardener Dianne Delisi is sowing away this session. One of her happy little sprouts is HB 385, a bill that eliminates civil liability for health care providers working in free medical clinics. The bill ensures that if you’re poor, don’t have health insurance, and must rely on free clinics for care and treatment, the providers, unless they are “willful and wanton,” are not accountable for their actions. “What, we amputated the wrong leg? Oh well.” This bill’s weedy little grip also exempts any provider who referred the victim, er…patient, to the free clinic.

Since you can never be too careful with these wily poor folks looking for ways to game the system, Rep. Delisi has included just about every type of health care practitioner imaginable to exempt from liability, including athletic trainers, massage therapists, and, of course, the admittedly evil hearing aid fitters. And just to make it as demeaning as possible, HB 385 also requires a signed release from liability before receiving care, acknowledging that you can’t pay and are at the mercy of the care you receive. Waiting in a clinic, preoccupied with a child’s fever, who among us wouldn’t sign?

Delisi, entering her sixth legislative session, and known in the past for her education-related bills addressing character and abstinence education, as well as her vengeance against youth violence, now joins the popular ranks of tort reformers. A skim over those who contributed to her most recent, and unopposed, campaign, might help explain why. Delisi received contributions from known tort reformers Texans for Lawsuit Reform, as well as former state Insurance Commissioner Elton Bomer, now a lobbyist for the Texas Medical Association. A choose-your-own assortment of major drug companies and insurance industry political action committees offered support as well, and are now being rewarded by the representative with bills like this one and HB 386, which limits liability for emergency care.

Bad Bills are compiled by the Observer‘s Bad Bills Girl, who rises vampire-like from hibernation every two years to suck the blood from vile or absurd state legislation. If you have a likely candidate for “Bad Bills,” fax her at (512) 474-1175, or e-mail [email protected].