LOS ANGELES -- As a rule, legislators tend to begin their attack on bills once they have actually been written. But not much proposed legislation involves the backsides of children.
A Democratic assemblywoman from Mountain View says she will submit a bill this week - once it is drafted - proposing that California become the first state in the nation to make spanking of children age 3 and younger a misdemeanor. Penalties could include child-rearing classes for offenders to one year in jail.
Just the mention of the bill has become a minor statewide perturbation, sparking denouncements from many Republican lawmakers (the state Senate minority leader, Dick Ackerman, declared, "I'm trying to pick a word other than crazy, let me see, not well thought out."), heated debates among parents ("A bill should be passed to allow other parents to smack the parents of undisciplined children," wrote one Internet poster) and some self-reflection on behalf of the governor.
In an interview with The San Jose Mercury News, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that as a child he "got smacked about everything. That was the way Austria worked."
The governor said that when disciplining his four children, he and his wife, Maria Shriver, declined to spank. "I think any time we try to pass laws that say you've got to protect the kids, it's, in general, always good," he added.
The bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Sally J. Lieber, said that her office had been inundated with calls since word of the proposed bill - which she will probably introduce this week - surfaced. The majority of the calls, she conceded, were against such legislation.
"I have to question why our society holds so tightly to physical discipline among the very young," Lieber said in an interview.
"Disciplinary action is up to the parents," said Bill Maze, a Republican assemblyman from the Central Valley. "This is a wrongheaded measure, and there is zero support among the Republicans I have talked to."
Lieber appears undaunted by the criticism of her proposal.
When it was pointed out to Maze that the Republican governor had shown some support for the measure, referring his own upbringing, Maze countered, "The only thing I can say about him is that I guess he needed some discipline; otherwise he wouldn't have gotten where he is today."