OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire today signed into law House Bill 1596, which declares that the right of a mother to breastfeed her child in public places is a civil right protected by Washington’s anti-discrimination law.
“This new law will eliminate one more obstacle that women are faced with day in and day out,” said Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood. It takes effect in 90 days.
Washington is already one of at least 25 states that have passed laws explicitly declaring that breastfeeding or expressing breast milk does not constitute indecent exposure. In a move intended to prod businesses into making more accomodations for breastfeeding moms, the state also has a law allowing employers to say they’re “infant-friendly” if they allow flexible work schedules and clean facilities for moms.
The new law protects against discrimination by declaring that women can breastfeed a child “in any place of public resort, accomodation, assemblage or amusement.” That includes restaurants, hotels, motels, stores, malls, theaters, concert halls, parks, fairs, libraries, schools, hospitals and government offices.
Complaints would be investigated by the state Human Rights Commission. Based on results involving similar laws in Vermont and Hawaii, the commission estimates that it will field 4-5 complaints a year. It says that Washington has a high percentage of breastfeeding moms, particularly among immigrants and low-income women.
In House and Senate hearings, no one testified against the bill. But proponents said that women continue to be asked to leave public places while breastfeeding. Such hassles, they said, may contribute to a sharp dropoff in breastfeeding at 6 weeks and 6 months.