Sunday, February 17, 2019

Congressman Alcee Hastings introduces bill to abolish corporal punishment in schools, but the bill will go nowhere

Congressman Alcee Hastings, dean of the Florida congressional delegation, introduced a bill last month to abolish corporal punishment in the schools. Titled "Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act," the bill would cut off federal funding to any state that permits corporal punishment in the public schools.

Hastings, you may not remember, was once a federal judge. In 1989, Congress impeached him and removed him from the bench based on charges of bribery and lying under oath.

But that was 30 years ago; and, as the Psalmist observed, if God kept a record of all our sins, "who could stand?" Hastings' constituents must share that sentiment; they've sent Hastings to Congress for 25 years.

I hope Hastings' bill becomes law. Irrefutable evidence shows that beating children with sticks and boards is not good for them. Research has documented that African American students and children with disabilities get a disproportionate share of corporal punishment.

Moreover, all the leading child advocacy organizations and educational groups oppose the corporal punishment of children. Even the Catholic Church, which has a high tolerance for child rape, does not permit Catholic school administrators to paddle school kids.

Most states have abolished corporal punishment in their public schools.  Nineteen states still allow it, but the practice is mostly confined to rural communities in five Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana Mississippi, and Texas. Hastings' bill, if it becomes law, would wipe it out across the whole United States.

Hastings' bill, labeled H.R. 727, has six co-sponsors--all Democrats. Surely some House Republicans can step up to support H.R. 727.  On the Senate side, perhaps some lawmaker running for president might stop campaigning for a couple of moments and endorse Hastings' proposal to stop corporal punishment in the schools. Senators Harris, Warren, Booker, Gillibrand, and Klobuchar--are you listening?

But here is my prediction. No Republican congressperson will join Democratic colleagues as co-sponsors of  Hastings' bill. The bill will never get out of committee. In spite of the fact that Democrats control the House of Representatives, HR. 727 will never come to a vote on the House floor.

Our elected representatives are now so intent on destroying their political enemies, so obsessed with getting a few seconds of media attention, that they have forgotten that there are some simple and noncontroversial things they can do to make America a better country.

Dorothy Day, the great Catholic social justice activist, once had this to say about people's talk and people's deeds. "I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions."

So, as the 2020 election season begins, let us judge all our braying politicians by what they have done, not by what they are saying. And if Representative Hastings gets a law passed to stop children from being assaulted in the schools, he will have redeemed himself in my mind for his misdeeds as a federal judge long ago.


Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.)



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