Child protection advocates are throwing their support behind changes in state law that would penalize children 17 and younger for “sexting” and require in-home day cares to have written permission from parents before they could spank a child.
Those are among 16 legislative bills endorsed by the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children. The panel on Thursday released its first report on the state of children in South Carolina and what needs to be done to help them.
The “sexting” bill proposed by Rep. Joan Brady, R-Richland, would subject children to a $200 fine and the prospect of suspension of their driver’s licenses if they distribute sexually explicit images of themselves or other minors through the Internet.
The objective is not to criminalize children for making stupid mistakes, “but to get their attention,” Brady said after the report’s release. The civil violation would land a child in counseling sessions.
The bill, being refined in subcommittee, got nowhere during last year’s session of the General Assembly. But Brady and other legislators on the children’s committee have pledged to push a new version into law.
They hope that because the committee includes members of the House and the Senate who are Republicans and Democrats, the panel’s legislative agenda has a better chance of passage.
“Darrell Jackson and Mike Fair are now allies with Joan Brady in the Senate,” Jackson, D-Richland, said of the “sexting” bill and the 15 others.
“We become lobbyists, advocates for these proposals,” Jackson said. “I think that fast-tracks it and can help tremendously.”
The bill involving in-home day care providers would strengthen last year’s requirement that they undergo two hours of training, the so-called Kendra’s Law. That was the first law in South Carolina to mandate any kind of training for those who provide child care in their homes, which amount to about 1,500 facilities. The new bill would establish a state law that children can be struck only if parents sign away that authority.
In March 2008, a Richland Northeast in-home provider was convicted of leaving toddler Kendra Gaddie impaired after a slapping or shaking at her day care. In a controversial sentence, Talisha Lavette Smith walked out of the courtroom with five years’ probation.
Other bills endorsed by the committee would keep child offenders from being shackled in Family Court unless a judge decides the child is a safety risk or might try to flee. Children now charged with crimes often are brought into such courtrooms in chains.
The committee also wants to create a study committee to propose the state’s first regulation of summer camps. Camps, where children have been hurt and even killed, currently operate without any real oversight by the state.
The 2011 report from the committee, which is to be done annually, also found that last year:
485,000 children monthly qualified for Medicaid benefits
100,000 children received special education services
37,500 children were investigated as objects of abuse
8,300 children lived in foster care.