Kilah's Act passes in US Senate with unanimous consent - WNEM TV 5

Kilah's Act passes in US Senate with unanimous consent

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Child abuse legislation - named after North Carolina's Kilah Davenport, and crafted to make sure states across the country are taking child abuse seriously – was passed with unanimous consent in the United States Senate Wednesday.

"I thought it would be bittersweet but it's not. It's a joyous occasion" Leslie Davenport, Kilah's grandmother told WBTV. "I know Kilah is looking down and smiling, cheering and happy that we got this accomplished."

Davenport said "the road has been difficult."

Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, introduced the legislation in the Senate.

"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."

Congressman Robert Pittenger, of North Carolina's Ninth District, filed Kilah's Act in 2013. The legislation will require the US Attorney General to issue a state-by-state report on child abuse prevention laws within six months, with a particular focus on penalties for cases of severe child abuse. 

The goal, officials say, is to highlight deficient laws and provide states with the opportunity to fix those laws before another tragedy occurs.

It passed the House last December.

Kilah's Act is in memory of Kilah Davenport, a girl beaten so badly by her stepfather in 2012, when she was three-years-old, that her brain never fully recovered. Kilah died in March 2014.

Her stepfather, Joshua Houser, was sentenced to serve between eight and ten years in prison. He was convicted in February, before Kilah's death.

"Tonight's vote was both thrilling and sickening," Congressman Pittenger said Wednesday, "The Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act will strengthen laws and help prevent child abuse. But it is sickening to realize that we need such laws. What is wrong with our society that children should be treated so brutally?"

Pittenger then talked about Kilah and her family. "Let us pause to remember sweet Kilah, her beautiful smile, and her brave fight against the horrific injuries she suffered at the hands of her stepfather. Let us also remember Kirbi, Leslie, and Brian Davenport, who sacrificed so much to care for Kilah and who have worked tirelessly to end child abuse."

Kilah's Act won't stiffen penalties - just force the federal government to make sure states aren't taking child abuse lightly.

"As a mother and a grandmother, I was incredibly shocked and saddened by what happened to Kilah Davenport, an innocent child, and I cannot begin to imagine the pain her family has had to endure. I'm proud to support the Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act to help protect other children from similar abuse. I have truly made it one of my top priorities in the Senate to fight for the safety and welfare of our children, and I am pleased that my colleagues came together to pass this bill," NC Senator Kay Hagan said.

She added, "No family should have to endure this kind of unspeakable tragedy, and my thoughts and prayers go out to Kilah's family, which has suffered a grave loss."

WBTV obtained letters recently exchanged between Sen. Hagan and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Supporters of Kilah's Act complained the legislation was held up, to the point of near-death, in the Judiciary Committee because Leahy was said to oppose it.

Leahy responded that his staff was simply studying the law.

In a May 6th letter to Leahy, Senator Kay Hagan urged him to support the legislation - saying "no child should have to endure the unspeakable tragedy suffered by Kilah Davenport, and we should work to prevent more innocent children from becoming victims of abuse in the future. I respectfully urge you to take swift action to support the Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act."

Sen. Leahy responded, and said in part, "I have no quarrel with the provision requiring a survey of public laws related to child abuse but the scope of the bill only applying to child abuse on federal land is what led me to question its value. If you are convinced that it is important, then I will defer to your judgement."

Friends and family of the Davenports also started a face book campaign aimed at Sen. Leahy.

Leslie Davenport said they also "started making calls - friends and family across the country."

She said "we might have gotten his attention. I'm not sure but I think that probably helped quite a bit."

The Senate took action on the bill Wednesday evening.

It now must go to the White House for the President's signature.

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