INDIAN TRAIL Rep. Robert Pittenger announced federal legislation on Thursday aimed at increasing penalties for people convicted of serious cases of child abuse.
The “Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act of 2013,” which Pittenger, a Republican from Charlotte, introduced into the U.S. House last week, is named for a Union County toddler police say was severely beaten by her stepfather last May.
Kilah, who sat in her wheelchair next to her mother as Pittenger announced the legislation, was hospitalized with severe brain damage and a fractured skull. At first, doctors told her family that she might not live 24 hours. She survived, but will likely have the mind of a 3-year-old for the rest of her life. Her stepfather remains in jail. His potential sentence would not be impacted by any new legislation.
The bill introduced by Pittenger would strip federal money for child abuse prevention programs from states that don’t increase the mandatory minimum sentence for abuse that causes serious bodily injury to a child, or results in long-term or permanent damage.
“I just see this as a very humbling and solemn moment to pay respect but also to try to do something significant on (Kilah’s) behalf and on behalf of young, precious children who are defenseless across this country.”
A bill named after Kilah that would increase sentences for similar crimes unanimously passed the N.C. House earlier this month, but is still in a Senate appropriations committee because of reported concerns about finding $800,000 to implement the tougher penalties.
Currently, in the worst cases of abuse, an offender charged under N.C. state laws could serve up to 15 years in prison. But the proposed state bill would increase penalties for the worst offenders to nearly 33 years.
Pittenger’s bill doesn’t outline how it would address any increased costs states will incur if the stiffer federal penalties took effect.
Pittenger said he anticipates the federal bill could be signed into law as early as this year. And Kirbi Davenport, Kilah’s mother, said her family will play a role in trying to persuade legislators to pass the bill.
She said her daughter has been making progress in the last year. Kilah said “Monkey” for the first time on Saturday, and began horseback therapy last week, which might help her walk again.
“I am well aware no new legislation will pertain to my case,” Kirbi Davenport said. “But that’s OK, because if we can change the life of just one child, it’s all worth it.”
She said a trip to Washington was in the works to “let everybody see a survivor. Let everyone meet Kilah, because that’s all you need.”
Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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