Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday expressed “regret” over the “unintended consequences” of a 2011 California truancy law, which she supported as the state attorney general and which she said led to the criminalization of parents.
The presidential hopeful said in a clip posted by the podcast “Pod Save America” that it was “never the intention” that parents of children who missed too much school would be criminalized.
“My regret is that I have now heard stories that where, in some jurisdictions, DAs have criminalized the parents,” Harris said. “And I regret that that has happened and that, the thought that anything that I did could have led to that, because that certainly was not the intention, was never the intention. Never was the intention.”
The section of the California law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2011, reads that parents could be subject to a fine of up to $2,000 or “imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.” The law applies to a parent or guardian of a student who is 6 years old or older who is in kindergarten or in first grade through eighth grade, “whose child is a chronic truant … who has failed to reasonably supervise and encourage the pupil’s school attendance, and who has been offered language accessible support services to address the pupil’s truancy.”
Harris said the criminalization of parents happened “in other jurisdictions, not under my watch ever. I had no control over that.” The senator added when she was district attorney of San Francisco, from 2004 to 2011, “we never sent a parent to jail.”
The senator, who officially announced in January she is running for president, has come under scrutiny for her record as a prosecutor. She has previously rebutted some of the liberal criticism and argued during a CNN town hall in January that she has “been consistent my whole career.”
Harris said she would not support a similar truancy law if she becomes president.
The senator explained why she initially supported the California law.
“I took a look at and did an analysis of who our homicide victims were who were under the age of 25, and I learned that over 90% were high school dropouts,” she said.
She said she learned “that up to 40% of the chronically and habitually truant students were elementary school students, missing 50, 60, up to 80 days of a 180-day school year.”
Harris said she realized “the system was failing these kids.”
“I wanted to avoid a situation where those children end up being criminalized, some for their entire lifetime, because we failed them in the earliest stages,” she said.