July 28, 2014

Legislators quibble over whether women should “express” breast milk at work

There was a fight in the Iowa House this morning over whether women should be able to take time away from work to pump breast milk for their babies. 

The Iowa Senate had endorsed what supporters called “The Family Friendly Workplace Act” but the House did not, so senators inserted that proposal into the final bill of the 2010 legislative session.  If the proposal had become law, businesses would have been required to provide “reasonable” time each day for workers who “express” or pump breast milk for their babies.  Representative Jodi Tymeson, a Republican from Winterset, asked her colleagues to take that proposal out of the bill.

“This is a policy bill that should have gone through the appropriate process and it simply does not belong in this bill,” Tymeson said. 

Representative Janet Pedersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, called the proposal a “small step” to help working moms with newborns.  “I can tell you from probably being one of the only legislators up here who’s nursed while in office with three of my children that making accommodations for working mothers is not that difficult,” Petersen said. “but we do need employers to do their part as well.” 

Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, cited data about the benefits a mother’s breast milk provides to her baby. “I’m somewhat puzzled that a woman would be standing up and asking us to take this out of the bill,” Mascher said.

Tymeson responded:  “Representative Mascher, last time I checked I have a constitutional right to offer any amendment that I choose.”

Tymeson won this fight, narrowly, as the House voted 50 to 49 to take the breast-milk-pumping provisions out of the bill.  This debate is among the last to occur during the 2010 legislative session, as lawmakers push to adjourn for the year sometime this afternoon.