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Kilah’s law stalls in the U.S. Senate

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com
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Kilah Davenport

The federal Kilah Davenport Act has stalled in the U.S. Senate, according to U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, who authored the legislation that aims to strengthen punishment for the worst child abuse cases.

Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican, accuses Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, of blocking Senate action on the bill . Without the senior Democrat’s approval, the legislation has little chance of advancing to a vote by the full Senate, Pittenger said in a statement. A House version passed unanimously.

An aide for Leahy denied that Kilah’s Act had been blocked. She said the legislation is still under review and no decision had been made.

Kilah died in March from complications from the May 2012 assault at the hands of her stepfather that fractured her skull and left her with permanent brain damage. She was 4.

She was the inspiration and namesake for a North Carolina law that increased sentencing punishments for five child abuse-related felonies. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law last year.

Congress is considering pressuring states to increase their punishments for the worst child abuse. The legislation would direct the U.S. attorney general to issue a report detailing each state’s penalties for child abuse, including whether the laws provide enhanced penalties in cases of severe child abuse.

The report would have to be issued within six months and would attempt to highlight deficient child abuse laws.

“Senator Leahy is blocking common sense child abuse prevention legislation, apparently because he wants to shield Justice Department bureaucrats from doing extra work!” Pittenger said in a statement.

Pittenger has requested a meeting with Leahy and has said he would reach out to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who previously pledged his full support for the legislation.

In a statement on the Senate floor on Thursday, Leahy said he was supporting the Justice for All Reauthorization Act, which covers several criminal-justice issues, from DNA evidence analysis to auditing grants doled out by the Department of Justice.

In the speech, Leahy called attempts to cover criminal-justice matters separately “obstruction.”

“Some would have us pick apart pieces of the Justice for All Reauthorization Act, with the hope that we can do the other pieces later. To me, to law enforcement, and to countless victims of crime, this is not acceptable,” he said.

Wootson: 704-358-5046
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