Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City, had a bill to accommodate public employees who breastfeed clear an early hurdle Tuesday when it passed favorably out of the House Political Subdivisions Committee. Even still, the committee raised the concerns that will likely follow the bill through the process: Does that state need to force local government agencies from school districts and counties to accommodate breastfeeding employees?
For Miller, it was unfortunate that he even needed to run a bill clarifying the rights of breastfeeding employees.
"It's a little bit sad to me that we have to talk about breastfeeding as an accommodation," Miller said. "It certainly should be a right."
Miller's House Bill 242
, he stressed, only addresses public employers such as cities, state agencies and counties. The bill would require those public employers to provide reasonable breaks for employees to nurse or use breast pumps, and a room with privacy and a refrigerator to store breast milk.
The bill would also require that public employers develop their own internal policies about breastfeeding, and that they would be restricted from discriminating against employees who breastfeed.
Miller pointed out that the bill comes with no costs associated in its fiscal note, thanks to the fact that, by his estimation, perhaps half of the state's public employees already enjoy such accommodations thanks to the federal law the Fair Standard Labor Act, and that his bill would extend those protections.
"Right now we have a law that is good, but it's not equitably applied across the workforce," Miller said.
However, Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, was concerned about the state taking a blanket approach when it was unclear to him how widespread the problem was of public employers not accommodating breastfeeding employees. In public testimony, one woman testified of working at a school in North Ogden where she could only breastfeed in a faculty restroom; otherwise, no one testified to complain of having a current employer that couldn't accommodate them, and it was determined that the state and Salt Lake County at least already have established policies for breastfeeding employees.
"I don't know why we're pulling federal law into state statute," Thurston said "I don't know what we're trying to accomplish."
Miller said there was value for employers and employees alike, especially since many mothers may not realize they have a certain right to breastfeeding, and that getting agencies to articulate policies beforehand would help everyone involved.
"I hope as we move forward, it won't be an accommodation. It will just be another section of the HR manual that says to mothers, 'You have a right to breastfeed, and here is how to do it,''" Miller said.
To read HB 242, click here. To contact Rep. Miller about his bill, click here. To find your legislator to contact them about this bill, click here. For more updates from the hill, follow @EricSPeterson and @ColbyFrazierLP on Twitter and visit CityWeekly.net