RALEIGH A 3-year-old Union County girl who authorities say was badly beaten by her stepfather last year was on hand Thursday as lawmakers made an emotional pitch for a bill that could help protect children like her.
Kilah Davenport snuggled in her grandfathers arms as an array of legislators, mostly from the Charlotte area, touted what they call Kilahs Law.
Bills in the House and Senate would toughen punishments for felons accused of child abuse.
We dont want to see ever again what happened to Kilah happen to anybody else, Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican, told reporters.
The bill would increase the punishments for five child abuse-related felonies. For the worst cases, an offender who currently could serve up to 15 years in prison could serve up to nearly 33 years. The House version heads to committee next week.
Horn, its chief sponsor, was flanked by other sponsors including GOP Sens. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius, Tommy Tucker of Waxhaw and David Curtis of Denver, Republican Rep. Dean Arp of Monroe and Democratic Rep. Rick Glazier of Fayetteville.
Kilah was left in the care of her stepfather last May. Authorities say she was beaten by her stepfather, Joshua Houser, who remains in jail on $1 million bond awaiting trial. Kilah was hospitalized with severe brain damage and a fractured skull.
Kilahs family was joined Thursday by members of the group Bikers Against Child Abuse and by leaders of the Justice for All Coalition, a group that has advocated the change in law.
It turns out this is not an isolated case, said Jeff Gerber, the groups founder. This is an epidemic in all of North Carolina.
In the last fiscal year, more than 131,000 children across the state were referred to county social services agencies for possible abuse and neglect, according to Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. In Mecklenburg County, the number was nearly 14,000.
Kirby Davenport, Kilahs mother, said the legislation would help other children. While her daughters stepfather could leave prison in a few years, she said, Kilah will get a life sentence, a life of therapy and rehabilitation.