After a brief congressional hold-up, the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent a bill honoring 4-year-old Kilah Davenport that aims to strengthen punishment for the worst child abuse cases.
Wednesday’s vote clears the path for the legislation authored by Charlotte Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger to be signed by President Barack Obama . The House passed the bill unanimously in December.
Kilah was severely beaten by her stepfather in May 2012, fracturing her skull and leaving her with permanent brain damage. She died in March from her injuries.
Pittenger called the legislation’s passage a victory for Kilah’s family.
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“The tragedy of their sweet child will not be in vain, and it will assist protecting other children,” he said.
In a town known for its dysfunction, where Democrats and Republicans struggle to agree on anything, the passage of the legislation shows some good can come out of Washington, Pittenger said.
The bill is expected to be the freshman lawmaker’s first legislation to be passed by Congress and signed by the president.
It calls on the U.S. Attorney General to study child abuse penalties in every state and report whether penalties should be increased.
The Senate version was introduced by Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of Winston-Salem and co-sponsored by Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro.
“I am pleased that the Senate passed the Kilah Davenport bill tonight, and I thank Representative Pittenger for his advocacy on behalf of the family and the abused. I only regret Kilah did not survive to see her issue championed – God bless her and her family,” Burr said.
Last year, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory signed a North Carolina law named after Kilah that increased sentencing punishments for five child abuse-related felonies.
Hagan intervenes for Pittenger
The federal legislation also got some bipartisan help from Hagan.
On a shared flight back to Washington last week, Pittenger asked Hagan for her help getting the legislation passed through the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee, where it had been under consideration for several months.
Last week, Pittenger accused committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., of blocking the bill. His staff denied the allegation.
After the flight, Hagan sent Leahy a letter on Tuesday urging him to support the legislation that works “to prevent more innocent children from becoming victims of abuse.”
Leahy wrote back to Hagan, stating that his staff’s review of the legislation took longer than usual because there was no previous hearing held in the House. He acknowledged he had some questions about the scope of the bill, but said he would defer to Hagan’s judgment and support the measure.