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Los Angeles Times, 10 January 1996
Vote Advances Conroy Bill to Paddle Vandals
By Eric Bailey
SACRAMENTO -- Flexing newfound conservative muscle, Assembly Republicans pushed out of a key committee a controversial measure that would allow the paddling of juvenile graffiti vandals, brushing aside criticism from Democratic lawmakers who lambasted it as cruel punishment.
Voting along party lines, the Assembly Public Safety Committee approved, by a 5-4 margin, a bill by Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) that would allow a judge to order a parent or bailiff to whack children up to 10 times with a half-inch-thick wooden paddle.
"I'm just giving a tool to the judge, an appropriate punishment for a child he feels needs a little rod," Conroy said. " 'Spare the rod, lose the child' is a proverb we've lived by for years and years. . . . [The judge] can threaten the little monster if he so desires."
The measure, AB 7, drew national attention when Conroy first introduced it in 1994, but it failed to escape a Democrat-controlled fiscal committee and died. At the time, Conroy said polls taken in connection with the caning of a U.S. teenager in Singapore for spray-painting cars showed overwhelming public support for the idea.
With Republicans now firmly in control of the lower house, Conroy's bill is expected to reach the Assembly floor for a vote -- after a stop in the Appropriations Committee -- in the next few months. Tuesday's debate between Democrats and Republicans vividly illustrated the widening ideological gulf separating the combatants in the sharply divided Assembly.
Conroy and Republicans on the Public Safety Committee unabashedly heralded the measure as the sort of get-tough proposal needed to stem the flood of graffiti in California, which costs the state $300 million annually in cleanup costs.
"As a parent, I have found that sometimes corporal punishment is necessary," said Assemblyman James E. Rogan, a Glendale Republican and former judge who has seen plenty of juvenile offenders. "And I think the majority of people in this country agree."
But his Democratic opponents heartily disagreed, and they were joined by child welfare advocates, the California Teachers Assn., social workers and legal experts who also oppose the bill.
Pointing to studies suggesting that corporal punishment serves only to breed anger and resentment among wayward children, they labeled Conroy's idea a throwback to a more inhumane age and an intolerable intrusion into matters best left up to parents.
"I really question how you can come to the conclusion that paddling would have any social value whatsoever," Assemblywoman Diane Martinez (D-Monterey Park) said. "I don't understand where we get off ordering parents to paddle their children if that's not their belief. . . . If I was at the receiving end of that paddle I'd be plenty pissed off at the system that did that to me."
Child advocates agreed. "If you flog a child who is coming from a twisted sense of reality anyway, they're going to react to that by increasing the amount of vandalism and violence," said Steve Barrow, policy advocacy director for the Children's Advocacy Institute at UC San Diego.
Although a legal opinion Conroy received from the state attorney general's office suggests paddling would be found constitutional, opponents argued it would fall if tested by the courts and invariably would prompt damage claims by outraged parents.
Hefting a thick paddle, Assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) argued that the wooden plank was "somewhere between a paddle and a bat" and could cause "great harm" in the wrong hands. "We actually could put governmental officials in a position of being sued for causing the kind of harm one could cause if struck with this kind of stick."
Villaraigosa said a more appropriate approach for tackling teenage taggers would be to bolster programs for them and try to steer repeat graffiti vandals toward a more productive course.
Rogan, however, suggested that the bill's opponents were attempting "to somehow color this bill" as sinister and harmful because of ideological differences. He argued that many of the studies showing problems associated with spankings are tainted by biases against corporal punishment on the part of researchers. And he said parents who paddle their children are doing it "out of love, not hate."
Several of the Republicans waxed nostalgic about paddlings administered by teachers when they attended high school.
"I have experienced that from the other side of the paddle," admitted Assemblyman Jan Goldsmith (R-Poway). "It was something [his gym teacher] used to keep the gymnasium quiet. I can tell you that after the first few weeks of the year, the gymnasium was always quiet."
Goldsmith said the bill gives judges "something for their arsenal," concluding that for some troubled youths "it just might save them from a life of crime."
Conroy has a companion bill, slated to be heard today by the Assembly's Education Committee, that would allow public schools to authorize the use of corporal punishment by administrators.
Copyright (c) 1996 Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times, 11 January 1996
A Better Penalty Than Paddling
Instead of swatting vandals, it's wiser to make them clean up the graffiti
In a complex world where simple answers appeal to headline-grabbing politicians, there may be something irresistible about trying to straighten out wayward youth with a few whacks of a paddle.
After all the publicity about the caning of an American youth in Singapore in 1994, Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) got a lot of mileage out of a proposal to deliver remedial swats to young graffiti vandals in California. The proposal died in committee, but managed to stir a good deal of discussion about corporal punishment and elicited some conflicting legal opinions about its constitutionality.
Unwisely, Conroy vowed to revisit the issue. Now a committee in the Republican-controlled Assembly has narrowly approved a measure by Conroy that would allow a judge to order a parent or bailiff to whack children up to 10 times with a half-inch-thick wooden paddle.
The measure, slated eventually for a vote on the Assembly floor, should never become law. Paddling may provide some emotional satisfaction to those who want to strike a blow at crime, but its supporters' claims that youngsters will be reformed are dubious. The method is much more likely to confuse youngsters about whether violence is an appropriate way of righting wrongs.
There are better ways of dealing with the problem. Moreover, renouncing corporal punishment as barbaric does not mean that those guilty of defacing the environment should be dealt with leniently.
On the contrary, recent success at controlling or eradicating graffiti in Conroy's own county suggests that this is a problem ideally suited for a punishment that fits the crime. There is, for instance, no more appropriate labor pool for the intensive work of removing graffiti than vandals who have been sentenced to court-ordered community service.
No doubt there are people who think that paddling is an effective get-tough approach to a vexing and costly problem. While the political lineup in Sacramento may have shifted to be more accommodating of that view, it's folly to regard paddling as anything other than a reflexive swipe at juvenile crime.
Copyright (c) 1996 Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times, 21 January 1996
Swat Team Captain Might Want to Rethink Bottom Line
By Dana Parsons
When Orange County Assemblyman Mickey Conroy first introduced his paddling bill a couple years ago, I agreed to support it if he added an amendment. Namely, that the paddling not be limited to youthful graffiti offenders but be expanded to include wayward public officials as well. The amendment was not offered and, after much anguishing, I tearfully concluded I could not vote for the bill.
Then someone reminded me I wasn't in the Assembly and that it didn't really matter what I thought. Alas, I was forced to carp from the outside.
Now, Conroy is back with two more bills and, more important, a few more Republicans in the Assembly. Things haven't looked this promising for spankings in quite some time.
One of the bills would allow paddling of graffiti vandals (again, only juveniles!), while the other would allow public schools to reintroduce corporal punishment.
No, there's nothing really new under the sun about corporal punishment. There isn't any conclusive evidence that reinstating it will make this a better world. Plenty of school administrators and teachers oppose it. The only difference is we have some new legislators who might see a vote for it as a junior varsity version of being "tough on crime."
Very few people in civilized society want the bad guys to go unpunished, whether they're side-street killers or schoolyard bullies. The debate comes not over whether to punish, but how.
An aide to Conroy was quoted as saying the assemblyman relates the increase in violence to the banning of corporal punishment 10 years ago. It would make as much sense to peg it to 1963, the year in which "Leave It to Beaver" first went off the air.
Conroy, 68, grew up in a country where school reprimands carried more weight than they do today. The standard refrain in his day was the parental warning that trouble at school meant twice as much trouble waiting at home.
That describes only a part of America in 1996.
For starters, as many as half the students in a given class may have only one parent at home. Second, parents are just as likely to support their child as support the school district. Conroy's bill acknowledges as much, allowing for parents to approve the spanking. Given that, what's the point? What's the value of having the school hand out the punishment as a proxy for parents? If the parents favor spanking, why not do it at home and eliminate the middleman?
The answer, presumably, is that corporal punishment at school is more immediate and will deter other students. Like the death penalty, it has a certain logic to it: Students will see their classmates carted off to the spanking chamber and, presto, will be so impressed by the threat that they will never act up again.
No doubt, some would. My guess is, those would be the same kids who wouldn't get into trouble in the first place. They already have a healthy respect for authority, and the threat of being whacked would reinforce it.
It's the other group I'm worried about. How about the student who has little or no respect for authority, who already has a chip on his shoulder for various sins against him, real or imagined? Does Conroy know about kids like that, and does he really think a swatting by a principal is going to straighten out that kid?
More likely, I'd say, is that humiliating a kid like that is going to put that principal at risk by pushing a troubled kid over the edge. An angry kid in 1960 couldn't do much to a teacher except slug him. I don't need to tell you what an angry kid today can do.
What principal, with or without life insurance paid up, is going to get physical with a troubled student? For that matter, why should he? Giving a kid extra homework may upset him, but laying hands on him could set him off.
No school official would risk a confrontation like that. They'd spare the rod on students like that and use it only for the kids from whom they wouldn't fear retaliation. And what signal would that send to other students?
This is one of those bills that should be dismantled before it blows up and hurts someone. Even if nine of every 10 applications of corporal punishment has a positive effect, the repercussions from one bad situation could have tragic consequences.
Let's hope our law-and-order legislators do their homework. They frequently accuse their liberal counterparts of not living in the real world. Before voting for Conroy's bill, they should ask themselves if they'd paddle an angry, disruptive kid whose father has a pearl-handled .45 holstered at home.
Mickey Conroy, retired Marine, wishes we lived in a world where an extra 50 push-ups or a lap around the barracks would snap you into shape. Or, where a swat on the seat from the principal would straighten you up.
So do I.
Too bad we don't.
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