The Madison Common Council will consider an ordinance to explicitly allow breastfeeding by members during council meetings.
Currently, no one other than Council members is allowed on the Council floor during Council meetings. The change would make an exception for nursing children.
The proposal follows a battle in Eau Claire that ultimately led to children being disallowed from the dais where the City Council meets to prevent Alder Catherine Emmanuelle from breastfeeding during meetings. Members of the Eau Claire common council declared her breastfeeding “distracting.”
“After the experience that city council member Catherine Emmanuelle of Eau Claire had while she was trying to breastfeed her son during city council meetings, there was a group of us who got together to see if that would be an issue here,” said Alder Arvina Martin. “We found that it wasn’t specifically protected.”
Martin said the measure is preemptive.
“We don’t have any new mothers in the body right now, but we wanted to make sure this was in place so that when it comes up it’s not an issue,” she said.
“We just wanted to make sure it was crystal clear in our ordinance language,” said Alder Shiva Bidar. “I never thought in any shape or form that we would not allow (breastfeeding), but I just wanted to be sure it was memorialized.”
That small group, which included Martin and Bidar as well as Alders Mark Clear, Amanda Hall and Marsha Rummel, drafted the ordinance change to be introduced to the Council on November 21. The measure already has 13 cosponsors, making passage likely when it comes to a vote on January 2.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up with unanimous support of the council,” Bidar said.
“This should not be at all a conversation,” she added. “The fact that a mother should be able to breastfeed her child anywhere at any time should be a given in our society.
In fact state law protects the right of any mother to breastfeed her child in any place that both are authorized to be.
“We need to make sure that elected offices are open to everyone who wants to serve,” Martin said. “We don’t want to be putting artificial barriers up against people who have ideas and want to serve their community. We need to make sure our government bodies are diverse because we get better decisions when they are.”
The Dane County Board of Supervisors, which meets in the same room as the Madison Common Council, also protects breastfeeding mothers who are members of the board.
“We have a county ordinance akin to the state law,” said County Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner, who regularly nursed her son Lincoln during Council and committee meetings. “(Supervisor) Carousel (Bayrd) and I have discussed strengthening that in light of recent and ridiculous interpretations of that law to try to prevent Alder Emanuelle in Eau Claire. I never was harassed, intimidated, or otherwise confronted about breastfeeding Lincoln at my seat on the board or in committee.”