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Wyoming Passes Breastfeeding Bill

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Earlier this year there was quite a bit of celebration among lactivists as Wyoming Representative Kathy Davison proposed House Bill 105, one of the most comprehensive breastfeeding bills to ever be introduced in a U.S. State.

It not only excluded breastfeeding from public from public indecency laws, but also included sections that:

Allowed breastfeeding mothers to be excluded from jury duty
Made it a misdemeanor to interfere with a mother breastfeeding in public
Allowed incarcerated breastfeeding mothers to keep their baby with them per a medical officer's declaration
Required the inclusion of breastfeeding education in high school health courses
Required companies to be supportive of breastfeeding moms through breaks, areas to pump and areas to store milk.

Unfortunately, the bill was a little...optimistic. I'm a pretty staunch lactivist, but even I didn't figure the bill had a chance of passing as it was presented.

For example, companies were required to give a 15 minute break for every two hours of work so that moms could nurse or express breast milk. In an eight hour work day that would equal an hour off for breastfeeding. Unless there's something allowing for companies to ask moms to work an extra hour at the end of the day...well...it's a little excessive. (It's fantastic for a company to do that on their own, but realistically, many businesses can't afford to pay someone for an hour that they haven't worked.)

The section of the bill that made it a misdemeanor for someone to interfere with a mom that was nursing in public actually went so far as to state that the crime was punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of $750 or both. Now again, I'm a lactivist and I think we need to protect moms that simply want to feed their children but up to six months in jail? For asking a mom to move or cover up? Come on...that's just completely unrealistic. In fact, the locals that have managed to pass laws that include penalties for interfering with breastfeeding usually leave it at something more along the lines of a speeding ticket. You pay a fine of roughly $100 and there's no risk of jail time. Much more realistic.

As such, the bill got caught up in committee and was in danger of not even making it to the floor for a vote.

When it finally did escape, it was so stripped down that it will become one of the weakest breastfeeding laws in U.S. states.

The ONLY thing that the bill does now is exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. It's a start...but I can't help but think that the supporters of this bill just pushed for too much too soon and that the backlash was to get hardly anything.

On the other hand, they've certainly broken new ground in terms of introducing really progressive breastfeeding legislation which will make it not NEAR the shock the next time someone pushes for such far-reaching legislation.

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  1. Blogger Cairo Mama | 9:56 AM |  

    Women in Egypt get an hour off a day for pumping. They also get a lot more maternity leave.

    My friend had her baby in Germany and she got 6 weeks of paid leave PRIOR to the due date and 2 months of paid leave after the due date and the right to return to her job for 3 years. Women in the US have a hard enough time taking unpaid maternity leave, though the Family Medical Leave Act protects it.

    I think if laws like those in Germany were passed in the US, they would just result in more employment discrimination against women of childbearing age.

    As for the Wyoming proposal, I do think 6 months in jail is excessive, unless there was a physical assult or threat of bodily harm.

    For most office jobs, I don't think the pump breaks are any more disruptive (or frequent) than the smoke and coffee breaks that employees take. It does depend on what type of job you have as to how much, if any, productivity loss or disruption would occur. From what I have read, most productivity studies on working mothers say they are more productive than other workers because they are more efficient.

    Congrats to Wyoming, anyway! Officially decriminalizing breastfeeding is a good first step.

  2. Blogger Jennifer | 10:24 AM |  

    I agree with you Cairo Mama.

    While I see the benefits of longer term leave in other countries and would like to see things like that here, as a small business owner I have a true understanding of the fact that it just is NOT feasible for some companies. (I'm all for equality, but if a business can't stay in business, they can't hire someone anyway...)

    I also agree that no matter how well intentioned the laws are, the reality still remains that until people in this company recognize WHY it's important for moms to have this time off and time to pump, that all those laws are likely to do is to lead to discrimination against mothers.

    It's sad...but it also shows how much work we have to do in terms of education. I firmly believe that education has a far better outcome than legislation though I recognize the need for both.

    That said, while this statement is true:

    "Officially decriminalizing breastfeeding is a good first step."

    Isn't it sad that we even have to consider doing that?

  3. Blogger Me | 6:53 PM |  

    I am from WY. You are right that it was mostly backlash. I think it would have gone better if the sponsors had gone more slowly and started with a few things at a time. However, I have breastfed in every situation imaginable, including at the legislature and political meetings and have never had any problems at all.

    I was talking to my Senator and he thinks maybe next time it may be more successful, especially if the sponsors go for some of the less controversial aspects seperately from the work provisions.

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