Idaho is the last state with no legal protection for breastfeeding mothers, said Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, so he’s proposing legislation to exempt nursing moms from the state’s indecent exposure law.
“The benefits of breastfeeding children are scientifically undeniable,” Amador told the House Judiciary Committee on Monday. The panel voted unanimously to introduce his bill.
Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books specifically allowing women to breastfeed in any place they’re legally allowed to be, and 29 states exempt breastfeeding from their public indecency statutes, said Amador, a first-term lawmaker whose infant son, Peter, is almost five months old.
But when then-Rep. Bonnie Douglas, D-Coeur d’Alene, proposed legislation to protect breastfeeding mothers in 2003, then-Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, told the House Health and Welfare Committee that he feared that under Douglas’ bill, women would be encouraged to “whip it out and do it anywhere.” Other male lawmakers said they feared people disrobing next to them in restaurants when they went out to eat. The 2003 bill didn’t pass.
A companion measure that year to require Idaho employers to recognize nursing mothers’ needs to express and store their milk was even more roundly rejected; the committee wouldn’t even agree to introduce it.
“Personally I find it disappointing that we as a state have not taken a more proactive stance through legislation to promote the natural bond and benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child,” Amador told the House committee on Monday. “Any law that stands in the way of promoting the healthy development of our children is a law that needs to be changed.”
This year, Amador has lined up 38 co-sponsors for his bill, including 31 Republicans and seven Democrats.
He said he first got the idea for the bill when he was visiting with North Idaho Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, at the airport, and Vick said his daughter-in-law in Virginia went to her first pre-natal appointment and was handed a pamphlet advising her to “know your rights” about breastfeeding. It advised that 49 states recognize the right of women to breastfeed in any place they have a legal right to be, with Idaho as the only exception.
“You would think that it’s a commonsense piece of legislation to put forward,” Amador said. Yet, he said, “This issue has been going on in Idaho for almost as long as I’ve been alive and nothing has happened.”
Amador’s bill doesn’t establish a right to breastfeed. It just exempts breastfeeding from indecent exposure and obscenity laws.
“It’s to a certain extent a compromise,” he said. Protection to match the other 49 states is “an opportunity for us to work on down the road, but it’s a heavier lift, I think, for us in Idaho.”
He told the committee that medical and scientific studies show breastfeeding is highly beneficial to infant development and health.
“It provides the healthiest start for the infant,” he said, and “promotes a unique and emotional connection between mother and baby.”
The committee’s vote on Monday clears the way for a full hearing on the bill.
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