Gerber: Senate stalls Kilah's law, questions affordability

Mar. 14, 2013 @ 04:34 PM

Kilah’s Law, a bill to increase punishment severe physical child abuse, was sent to N.C. Senate appropriations committee where it will stay until legislators find the money to implement.

News of the delay prompted Jeff Gerber, who heads the Justice for All Coalition, to hold a press conference Thursday with Kilah Davenport and her family. Gerber fears the bill will not be passed this session.

“This is unacceptable,” Gerber said. “The house passed it unanimously with a bipartisan vote and for the senate to let this die in committee is just unacceptable.”

The bill was sent to the senate committee on appropriations and base budget Wednesday. Sen. Tommy Tucker told Gerber the bill could be in committee until April or May, when the governor’s suggested budget is presented to the General Assembly. The appropriations committee must find money to pay for longer incarceration of convicted child abuse felons and the new way of classifying instances of child abuse so researchers can track the rise or fall of convictions.

Kilah’s Law would impose a 25-year to life sentence on anyone convicted of causing permanent, debilitating physical injury on a child.

Rep. Craig Horn, the bill’s primary sponsor, consulted with a fiscal research group about the cost to implement the law before introducing it to the house in January.

“I want this to be a one-and-done,” Horn told the Enquirer-Journal in January. “We’re going to do it once, it’s going to go through and it’s going to be signed by the Governor.”

Tucker said Kilah’s Law is following the standard track for any proposed legislation. If passed, it would amend the current child abuse law. But that amendment could increase the state’s cost to keep offenders in prison longer. The senate must study that increased cost and ensure there is enough new money to enforce the law.

Though delayed, Tucker said there is still every chance Kilah’s Law will be in place by the end of this legislative session.

“Absolutely. I mean, everybody wants this law. It’s a good law,” Tucker said. “This is just the process. I have every intent to see it get signed into law before the end of this session.

“In my opinion, we just aren’t moving fast enough for Mr. Gerber,” Tucker said.

Law enforcement officials said 3-year-old Kilah Davenport was severely beaten by her stepfather on May 16, 2012 while staying with family in Indian Trail. The beating broke bones and caused 90 percent brain damage. Kilah underwent several surgeries in the two months spent at Levine Children’s Hospital before she was strong enough to be sent home.

Over the last year, Gerber and other members of the Justice for All Coalition toured the state, asking local governments to support tougher child abuse laws. Now, Gerber worries that all that effort was in vain.

“This is as close to a perfect bill as you can get because it increases the time of incarceration for those convicted of felony child abuse, and it also tracks the instances of child abuse in the state separately instead of lumped in with domestic abuse numbers,” Gerber said.

Horn said he appealed to the senate appropriations committee chair and should receive an answer early next week. When writing the bill, he used the fiscal research findings that showed little additional cost for the changes under Kilah’s Law.

If the senate accepts his findings, it would accelerate the bill’s passage through the General Assembly, Horn said.

“I have great appreciation for the senate’s desire to work diligently and to consider the cost of all legislation,” Horn said. “I am hopeful that they will accept my argument that the true cost to implement this bill is negligible. I hope the senate will understand that the people who commit these serious crimes against children must receive appropriate punishment.”