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Harris regrets "unintended consequence" of truancy law she championed

2020 Democratic candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris.
2020 Democratic candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Sen. Kamala Harris expressed regret that some California district attorneys “criminalized" the parents of children who had too many consecutive, unexcused school absences, under a controversial 2011 law she helped move forward as the state's top prosecutor.

"My regret is that I have now heard stories where in some jurisdictions, DAs have now criminalized the parents. And I regret that that has happened and the thought that anything that I did could have led to that because that certainly was not the intention, never was the intention."
— Harris told "Pod Save America" in an interview aired Wednesday

Why it matters: Since joining the increasing large 2020 Democratic field in January, Harris has grappled with questions about her complex criminal justice record as San Francisco district attorney and California's attorney general.

  • Criminal justice reform will almost certainly be a big issue in the primary, and some critics say Harris has been too close with law enforcement during her political rise.

Details: In Wednesday's interview, she explained that her intent with the truancy law was not to punish parents, but to send a warning. She also noted that as San Francisco's district attorney, her office never jailed any parents and the policy resulted in the increase of school attendance by more than 30%.

"My concern was if we don’t take seriously the need that we as a society should have to ensure that our children are receiving the benefit of an education, we will pay the price later. And those kids will pay the price, which is that they will end up in the criminal justice system, and that’s what I wanted to avoid."
— Harris said

Go deeper: Kamala Harris: Everything you need to know about the 2020 candidate