June 13, 2003

House Bill 203: Outlawing "Emotional Abuse"

Representative Jim Masland (D).

H 203 would have defined "emotional abuse" to include the "willful infliction of mental or emotional anguish" through any "conduct which is intended to demean, frighten, intimidate, or isolate."

02/14/2003 Introduced.
02/14/2003 To House Committee on Judiciary.
05/30/2003 The Legislature adjourned for the year. Thankfully, H 203 is dead.

Action Requested:

HSLDA's Position:
Oppose. Emotional abuse is a real problem, but H 203 failed to define exactly what "emotional abuse" is. Many innocent parents could have been charged with abuse under H 203.

Each year, more than two million families are investigated due to allegations of abuse or neglect. The vast majority of these investigations are "unfounded," but each raises a real possibility that children will be removed from their homes. Home School Legal Defense Association believes that child abuse is a crime, and should be punished as such. H. 203 makes "emotional abuse" an offense against the state, subjecting families to investigation for any "conduct which is intended to demean, frighten, intimidate, or isolate."

Constitutional law prohibits the state from depriving any person of liberty through a "vague" statute. Under American law, people should be able to tell when they are breaking the law if they are to be punished by it. H. 203 is a classic example of a "vague" law which raises the prospect or selective or discriminatory enforcement. Parents who homeschool their children may be accused of "isolating" them. The reference to "willful infliction of mental or emotional anguish" is overbroad.

Legislators hate to appear "soft" on child abuse, so they tend to expand the definitions of abuse or neglect each time they are asked to do so. It is essential that Vermont citizens contact their legislators to ask them to oppose this bill. Without your help, Vermont will forbid behavior it cannot even define.

 Other Resources

4/8/2003 - Vermont--Vague Legislation Would Make "Emotional Abuse" Illegal

Bill Text

Bill History