Santa Fe, New Mexico (Reuters Life!) - New Mexico narrowly banned corporal punishment in its schools, joining 30 other U.S. states that have already outlawed the practice.
"The decision on whether or not to use corporal punishment on a child is one that is best left to a parent," said Governor Susana Martinez, who signed a bill banning the practice.
The ban passed in the House by a vote of 36 to 31 and in the Senate 22 to 17.
Opponents of the ban argued that school officials need the threat of physical punishment to maintain discipline and that policies ought to be up to local school boards, not the state.
Two-thirds of New Mexico's school districts had already banned corporal punishment, which can range from denying children permission to go to the bathroom to hitting them, said Tara Ford, co-director of Pegasus Legal Services for Children, a non-profit.
There were 705 incidents of corporal punishment in New Mexico in 2006, the last year such statistics were gathered, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
"The use of corporal punishment gives the wrong message on how to influence behavior," Ford said. "We need to show kids how to resolve problems without resorting to violence."
Also at issue is who gets spanked. Poor and minority children and children with disabilities including autism are much more likely than other children to receive corporal punishment in schools, said Jim Jackson, Executive Director of Disability Rights New Mexico.
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)