JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The primary reason for Sen. Rob Schaaf’s, bill, SB 502, was to create a clear exemption for breastfeeding mothers to abstain from jury duty.
Exemptions for jury duty are up to a judge’s discretion. A judge in a Kansas City case ruled that breastfeeding was not a viable excuse. The bill makes this an exemption, provided the mother has a corresponding note from a doctor or nurse.
Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, proposed a similar bill last year that passed out of Veteran’s Affairs and Health Committee and through the Senate before it was killed in the house.
The bill, which was heard Thursday in committee, also clarifies that breastfeeding in public should not be considered indececent or lewd behavior. It also expresses that mothers should practice discretion when nursing.
Becky Schwaller, a registered nurse, testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the Missouri Breastfeeding Coalition. However, she also asked that the part about a mother’s discretion be taken out of the bill saying that most mothers are already very careful when nursing in public.
“The word discretion is in this bill because of me. The word discretion will stay in because of me or it won’t pass,” Sen Brian Nieves, R-Washington said.
Nieves was influenced by testimony from a mother during committee hearings for the bill last year. He said the woman described a family gathering where she was asked to stop breastfeeding because of children in her presence. She responded that the sight of her breast would not harm their children.
“When someone comes here and delivers that testimony, there has to be more.” Nieves said. “I’m not comparing breastfeeding moms to roaches, but when you walk in the kitchen and flip on the light and see two roaches, how many roaches do you actually have?”
Nieves said the public part of the bill would not protect nursing mothers from ignorant people who would approach them and ask them to stop, he held firm to this view even another woman that testified recommended women carry flash cards of the law in their purse to show people.
“The law protects people from government, it doesn’t protect people from stupid people,” Nieves said. “Ignorant people aren’t going to Google ‘what’s Missouri law’ before approaching a breast feeding mother.”
Schwaller backed away from her previous statement saying she was fine with the discretion phrase being included in the bill if it would lead to the bill’s passage.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Nieves said. “I’m a huge fan of breastfeeding.”
It was the second reading for the bill in committee. There was no action taken Thursday.