RALEIGH With 4-year-old Kilah Davenport sitting silently alongside, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory Wednesday signed into law a bill designed to protect children like her from abuse.
“This is no doubt probably the most emotional bill I’ll sign as governor,” McCrory said.
As he entered the old House chamber in the Capitol, McCrory bent down on one knee and kissed Kilah’s forehead. The Union County girl sat immobile in a chair, surrounded by family, supporters and lawmakers who made “Kilah’s Law” a reality.
Authorities say the girl was badly beaten by her stepfather last May. Her stepfather, Joshua Houser, remains in jail on $1 million bond awaiting trial. Kilah was hospitalized with severe brain damage and a fractured skull.
Wednesday’s measure would toughen punishments for serious child-abuse cases.
It would increase penalties 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 bill passed the House and Senate by unanimous votes at every step.
“We are sending a strong message that abusing children will not be tolerated,” McCrory said. “There will be strong ramifications.”
Turning to Kilah, he said, “Kilah, you’re beautiful. Thanks for helping us out.”
Kilah’s mother, Kirbi Davenport, said the bill signing means “the world.”
“We turned a tragedy into something phenomenal,” she said.
A similar bill has been introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican.
The federal measure would strip money for child abuse prevention programs from states that don’t raise the mandatory minimum sentence for abuse that causes serious bodily injury to children, or results in long-term or permanent damage. It calls for a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
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.
Among the supporters at Wednesday’s signing were the legislators who shepherded the bill to passage – Republican Reps. Craig Horn and Dean Arp of Union County, David Curtis of Lincoln County and Sarah Stevens of Surry County as well as GOP Sens. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius and Tommy Tucker of Waxhaw.
Kilah’s family said Wednesday’s ceremony closes one chapter of their story. They and their supporters will now turn their focus to Washington.
“This bill will save the lives of children throughout North Carolina,” said Leslie Davenport, Kilah’s grandmother. “And we’re not going to stop here.”
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