Exclusive Interview: Virginia Public Breastfeeding Bills Pass, Unanimously
Since the beginning of the new year, Virginia Breastfeeding Advocates have been contacting their delegates to change the way moms will be treated when they need to breastfeed their children in public, CBS 6 reported. Current VA Law guarantees a woman the right to breastfeed her child on any property owned, leased or controlled by the state. More simply stated, currently, women can be asked to cover up, retreat to the restroom, leave the place of business, refused service, etc. Any breastfeeding mother will tell you that it is incredibly difficult to be an active part of your community after you have a baby without the option to breastfeed in public. 47 other states already have laws in place to protect mothers from indecent exposure, and the state of Virginia became #48 with unanimous votes from bipartisan support in both the house of delegates and the senate last week. Today is “crossover day” so that basically means the house bill will be voted on in the senate and the senate bill will be voted on in the house, before the bill goes to Governor, who has already agreed to sign. Effective July 2015, the new law will state: Provides that a mother may breastfeed in any place where the mother is lawfully present.
Kate Noon, creator of the public Facebook Group: VA Alliance for Breastfeeding Laws, was at the Virginia State Capital almost everyday for the past month, making face to face contact with the delegates and their aides to talk sensibly with them about the how this law to breastfeed in public would ultimately benefit families looking to spend more time at local businesses, restaurants, the gym, and anywhere that is not considered state property. Through the Facebook group, Kate was able to join forces with Virginia Lawyer, Rebecca Geller of The Geller Law Group, who was responsible for working with delegate Dave Albo to draft and introduce HB1499. Shortly afterwards, a companion bill with almost identical language, SB1427, was introduced by Senator Jennifer Wexton in legislation, just a few weeks ago.
During our phone interview, Kate told me,
“The consistent face to face contact with delegates and the persistent phone calls from the constituents to the legislative aides, definitely helped to make an impact on the way the bills were supported. My 10 year old daughter also testified because she wanted to help change the law so that she would have the right to breastfeed in public when she grew up and had children of her own.”
Many breastfeeding mothers and advocates were helping out behind the scenes making every effort to help VA realize that it is discrimination to not give mothers the right to breastfeed in public.
- Crystal McCollough‘s – a Virginia mom who was told to “cover up or leave” Big Woody’s restaurant – Petition to Tim Kaine
- Jill DeLorenzo – a Virginia mom who was asked to “cover up or leave” the Ashburn Gold’s Gym for breastfeeding
- Olivia Blackmon who was told it was “unsanitary” to breastfeed at the Chinquapin Recreation & Aquatic Center in Alexandria while the bills were in legislation!
Interview with Kate Noon, Rebecca Geller, and Crystal McCollough Earlier in Legislation:
How did you play a part in this bill being introduced?
Kate: Kate: In the summer of 2014, I read an article about how VA is one of only three states lacking a law to protect breastfeeding in public. Delegate Jennifer McClellan had just gotten a bill passed that increased pumping protections for school employees, so I reached out to her office to see if he was willing to propose a public breastfeeding law. It was a stroke o good luck that Albo’s submission was received and processed and first because he is male and Republican – so we had a bi-partisan bill right out of the gate with Delegate McClellen signing on as chief co-sponsor. In the end, the bill has gained such popularity that we now have 39 co-sponsors on HB1499. I also approached Senator Wexton who was willing to file a last-minute companion bill in the Senate on the day before filing deadline. This was a good sign that she thought the bill was viable.
Crystal: After being kicked out of a restaurant for breastfeeding, I started reaching out to the breastfeeding community in how to change current Virginia law. I was connected with Kate Noon and started helping her advocating for the bill she has worked on with a Delegate.
Rebecca: I first reached out to Republican Delegate Dave Albo in 2014 to ask if he would introduce the breastfeeding bill. I provided him with background information about the current status of breastfeeding rights in Virginia compared to the other 47 states that have this law. We worked together to draft the legislation he would go on to introduce. Once it was introduced, I worked with the Breastfeeding Alliance to lobby members of the legislature to help the bill gain traction. I am delighted that the bill has received publicity and significant support from legislators.
Why is this bill necessary in the state of Virginia?
Kate: Our current law is insufficient and opens women, children, and families up to being denied access, accommodations, services, and goods in public locations and venues. Women should be allowed to feed in public whether from breast or bottle in any setting in order to meet their babies needs. Virginia has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the US we need to create an environment that encourages breastfeed rather than a deterrent. This is a commonsense law and we are lagging behind as one of the last states to create a law for breastfeeding in public. The US Surgeon General did a call to action on 2011 which is a great example of breastfeeding promotion and advocacy at the national level, and VA needs to come into alignment by providing full legal protection and support for women rather than setting up barriers to breastfeeding.
Crystal: Virginia is one of the last states to have a law protecting women breastfeeding anywhere. Without it women can be harassed and discriminated while children are denied the basic necessity of eating to survive. This new bill will empower women, provide for healthier women and children because breastfeeding will last longer and open up more resources and education for women who struggle to breastfeed but want to keep doing it-all because women will not be afraid to breastfeed in public while going about their daily life.
Rebecca: Under current law, a mom has no protected right to nurse a child in public places in Virginia. I have a baby and 2 older children, so I am constantly in play places, restaurants, bowling alleys, arcades, etc where the older kids are playing and the baby needs to be fed — and I have no legally protected right to feed my baby in any of these places. Under current Virginia law, a business owner can tell me to leave the building if I need to nurse my baby. The bill is necessary for the health and well-being of babies, mothers, and families. Further, the business community supports this bill — over 100 businesses have stepped up in recent days to show their support for breastfeeding mothers.
What does this bill mean for mothers of Virginia?
Kate: Mothers will be supported by the state and in their communities with the basic right to breastfeed whenever and wherever their baby needs to be fed.
Crystal: Mother’s voices will be heard and their choices more respected.
Rebecca: As a lawyer and mom of 3 young kids, I believe that this bill has tremendous benefits for Virginia mothers. It means that moms can bring their kids to public places and not have to worry about being able to breastfeed a baby. Before I became a mom, I did not realize that breastfeeding is actually very hard to establish and maintain. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding a baby for one year. This bill would make it easier for mothers to breastfeed their babies. Each mother should be able to make a decision about what’s right for their child and it is important that the law respects a mom’s choices in feeding a child.
Going forward, how do you plan to notify public places about this new law and hold them accountable to uphold it?
Kate: With 500+ motivated grassroots activists now in the VA Alliance for Breastfeeding Laws, I’m hoping to use the support and connections made in legislation to develop a public education plan to make individuals and businesses across the state aware of the new law. I am already in talks with three legislators about three news breastfeeding related bills that will be introduced next year in the 2016 legislative session. This is just the beginning, with many new opportunities on the horizon.
Crystal: By printing out cards with the law I can carry it with me if I am confronted. Also working with CINCH in Hampton Roads, I can help educate businesses in my area. In addition, with the far-reaching capabilities of social media, mommy groups and other women/children related organizations can spread the word.
Rebecca: We are working with the press to publicize this bill. Once Governor McAuliffe signs the bill into law, we will continue to work with the press and social media channels to inform Virginia businesses about this change in law. Additionally, moms need to know what their rights are and to be able to stand up for these newly protected rights once the bill becomes law.