Saturday, April 5, 2014

Missouri Revises Breastfeeding Law To Provide Better Protection For Mothers

by Johanna Iwaszkowiec, CLC, BFPC

Photo courtesy of Barbara Gremaud

Several representatives of the Missouri and St. Louis Breastfeeding Coalitions were on hand Thursday to witness Missouri Governor Jay Nixon sign HB 1320 into law, expanding protection for breastfeeding mothers and allowing exemptions from jury duty for nursing moms. Similar legislation has been introduced many times in the past but it took sponsorship from Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City) to get it passed.

Rep. Ellinger is battling an aggressive form of liver cancer and has not been able to attend recent legislative sessions in Jefferson City. Lawmakers paid tribute to him and his career by fast-tracking his bill – it passed unanimously in the House on March 27, passed unanimously in the Senate on March 31, and was signed by the governor on April 3. The signing ceremony took place at City Hall in University City which is Rep. Ellinger’s hometown. 

A large number of lawmakers from around the state were in attendance to pay tribute to Ellinger. His wife, Linda Locke, spoke on his behalf stating, “This bill demonstrates the intersection where our state motto, ‘The Welfare of the People Shall Be the Supreme Law,’ meets our state judicial system. Clearly the consensus of the General Assembly is that the relationship of a mother to her child is a sacred bond and it should be respected by all institutions.”

Missouri was one of the first states to have a law protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed. Enacted in 1999, it states that “a mother may, with as much discretion as possible, breastfeed her child in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be.” There is also another lesser known provision that requires hospitals and obstetricians to provide mothers with information about breastfeeding, its benefits, and local support resources.

The new law states that “a mother may, with discretion, breast-feed her child or express breast milk in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be.” It also exempts breastfeeding from public indecency laws, and prohibits municipalities from enacting laws that would restrict these rights, and allows mothers to be excused from jury duty (with a doctor’s note).

Advocates felt that it was especially urgent to get the jury duty piece passed after two breastfeeding women in Jackson County were held in contempt of court last year after their requests to be excused from jury duty were denied. One of the mothers, Laura Trickle, was charged when she brought her 5-month old son to the courtroom with her for jury duty selection due to his nursing schedule and lack of childcare. After Trickle’s story went public, the judge decided to rescind the convictions to give the Missouri legislature another chance to pass this bill. If it had not passed, the women would have been recharged and fined $500.

After the bill signing, I spoke with State Senator Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) who has been diligently working on similar measures for years. He agreed that this new law could use some fine tuning but was very pleased that it has passed.

The fine tuning he mentioned is in reference to the discretion clause in both the current and new laws. Missouri is the only state with that wording and the concern among breastfeeding advocates is that without definition, there is too much room for interpretation leaving breastfeeding mothers at risk for harassment. It also implies a value judgment on breastfeeding, making it seem like something that should be hidden. There was just one senator in opposition of the removal of the discretion clause and advocates are confident that it will be removed at some point in the future.

This new legislation will take effect on August 28, 2014.


Read the full text of the bill here: http://goo.gl/VEbRVS

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