Clovis News

Outlook improves for Villines' child-abuse bill

SACRAMENTO -- For the past two years, Assembly Member Mike Villines has pushed for a new child abuse law named after a Fresno boy -- only to see his legislation stopped by Democrats worried about prison crowding.

The bill's fortunes might change this year.

Assembly Bill 1280 -- which increases penalties for child abuse that causes severe injury -- cleared a key hurdle last week by passing the Senate Public Safety Committee. The legislation has never made it this far.

"I am pleased that we will finally be moving forward," said Villines, R-Clovis.

The legislation, dubbed "Adam's Law," is named for Fresno's Adam Carbajal, who as a 1-year-old in 2004 was severely abused by his mother's then-boyfriend, Ramon Curiel.

Curiel was baby-sitting Carbajal and originally said the boy fell while trying to walk. But authorities later determined that Carbajal was shaken and hurled against a wall. He was initially given a 5% chance to live.

"The day before, he was walking, crawling -- doing everything a normal little boy does," his grandmother, Maria Alvarez-Garcia, said at last week's hearing. "Twenty-four hours later, he was on his death bed."

Carbajal, now 7 years old, was for years confined to a wheelchair, but now is able to move about with the aid of a walker.

Villines became personally involved in the case and in 2008 began pushing for a new penalty of 15 years to life in prison for any person caring for a child younger than 8 who inflicts "great bodily injury" that causes permanent brain injury or paralysis.

But Villines had trouble getting past the Democrats' policy of holding bills that exacerbate prison crowding. In a compromise this year, the bill was amended to require a lesser sentence of seven years to life in prison, with the possibility of parole.

That is still stiffer than present guidelines, which call for up to six years in prison for child abuse and 25 years to life for cases that result in death.

In an e-mail celebrating the bill's progress, Carbajal's supporters said: "Basically, the only way a perpetrator will be able to get out is through the parole board. We are very excited and are optimistic that this year will be our lucky year!!"

The bill is supported by the California District Attorneys Association. Opponents say the state could more wisely spend money on prevention.

"We can't stop this if we are going to spend money on incarcerating people for extended periods of time instead of making sure it doesn't happen," said David Warren, a lobbyist for Taxpayers Improving Public Safety, an activist group critical of the state prison system.

AB 1280, which already has passed the Assembly, still requires approval of the full Senate.