House wants to be 1st with mom-friendly designation

msantos@theolympian.comMarch 3, 2014 

State lawmakers want to encourage workplaces, hospitals and day cares to be more breast-feeding-friendly. But first, they think they should start with themselves.

Conversations are underway at the House of Representatives to increase access to breast-feeding rooms and make them nicer, as well as add refrigerators for women to store breast milk.

The talks began as part of a push to make the House the state’s first employer to achieve a proposed breast-feeding-friendly designation, a voluntary program that would have been created under a bill the House approved this month.

In its original form, House Bill 2329 would have created an optional breast-feeding-friendly designation that hospitals, day cares and employers could apply for through the state Department of Health.

The bill has since been amended so the proposed breast-feeding-friendly designation would apply only to hospitals. But that hasn’t stopped House members and staff from working to improve lactation rooms at the Capitol.

“I think it is a pretty strong statement that we would be the first,” said Rep. Marcus Riccelli, a Spokane Democrat who is the primary sponsor of the bill.

“We would have to make some major improvements,” said Riccelli, who noted that a “quiet room” in the basement of the House’s primary office building is available for breast-feeding, but it lacks a fridge.

So far, House staff have bought a new leather recliner to furnish that room, replacing a chair that was broken, House chief clerk Barbara Baker said.

House staff also are working with the state Department of Enterprise Services to help visitors access a normally locked lactation room on the first floor of the Capitol building, as well as to add signs letting people know it is there, Baker said.

One motivator for House members to improve breast-feeding areas at the Capitol is an incident that took place in the state Senate last year.

The Republican-dominated Senate majority, which held a narrow one-vote advantage in 2013, accused Democrats of trying to push through a Democratic senator’s bill while Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, stepped away to feed her child nearby.

Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, cited the “brouhaha” as a driver of this year’s push in the House.

“We want to make sure that nothing like that happens again,” said Cody, who chairs the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.

Holmquist Newbry said she supports efforts to improve breast-feeding facilities at the Legislature, particularly for members of the public. She said that during last year’s legislative session, she was able to breast-feed her son, Makaio, in fellow senators’ offices just off of the Senate floor, but other people don’t have that option.

“For the public who doesn’t have a relationship with a legislator to say, ‘Hey, can I come breast-feed in your office?’ I definitely think the state needs to do something,” Holmquist Newbry said.

Brad Hendrickson, the deputy secretary of the Senate, said he doesn’t know of any new conversations going on in the Senate about improving breast-feeding facilities. He said there are three quiet rooms that can be used for lactation in one of the Senate office buildings, but another building used by the Senate doesn’t have any space for breast-feeding.

“That’s something we’re hoping to address,” Hendrickson said.

Riccelli’s bill to create a breast-feeding-friendly designation moved out of a Senate committee Thursday, but with changes that would make the designation available only to hospitals.

Washington already is doing better than most other states when it comes to encouraging breast-feeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC ranked Washington ninth among all the states on a 2011 survey measuring how facilities statewide support breast-feeding. The CDC survey also included the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Pacific Islands.

Washington also is one of 28 states with a law exempting breast-feeding mothers from public indecency laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Washington Legislature passed another measure in 2009 protecting women’s right to breast-feed in public under the state’s anti-discrimination law.

As of November, the state Human Rights Commission had received eight complaints about violations of the state’s public breast-feeding law. Five of those cases were dismissed for various reasons, while two were resolved through a settlement. One was ongoing in November.

Jennifer McNamara, deputy assistant secretary of the state Department of Health’s prevention and community health division, said she believes few women file formal complaints when the law is violated, and the number of times Washington women have been asked to stop breast-feeding in public is probably much higher.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209 msantos@theolympian.com

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