Mothers' Room Returning to Capitol
By Fred Knapp , Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
Dec. 8, 2021, midnight ·
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A room for nursing mothers is returning to the Capitol, but not everyone is satisfied.
There was controversy earlier this year when a room where women could pump breast milk or nurse their babies was converted to an office. Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, who had helped secure a grant to furnish the room, said taking it away was symbolic of legislative disregard for the needs of women. Sen. Dan Hughes, chair of the Legislature’s internal governing executive board, said the change was required because replacing the Capitol’s heating, ventilating and air conditioning system had taken away much of the available space. But Hughes promised to get the room back up and running as soon as possible.
Wednesday, the Exec Board discussed a plan to do that. It would reopen the room, which can be locked for privacy and has a sink to wash up. But it would only be open to legislators and their staff, not other people who work in the Capitol or members of the general public who might be visiting. Hughes defended the proposal as a reasonable compromise.
“The big picture is, we’ve got a 10 or more-year project that is tens of millions of dollars in to redo this building, and we’re fighting about one room for two years? You know, people have to make sacrifices,” Hughes said.
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks objected to the proposal. She compared requiring women to ask for a key to the room from the clerk’s office to requiring people to ask for a key to use a restroom. And she objected to limiting the room to only legislators and their staff, framing her objection in a skeptical question.
“To say that people who come to this building and have to have an ability to breastfeed their child and say ‘Oh big deal, you know, it’s just a little inconvenience for the next what? – year and a half or two years?’” Pansing Brooks asked.
Hughes noted that there is a separate breastfeeding pod – a standalone structure shaped a little like a small house trailer – that’s open to the public. Critics complain there’s no water available in the pod.
The Executive Board voted 5 to 2, with one abstention to approve Hughes’ proposal. He said the goal is to reopen the mother’s room sometime this month, adding further changes to the policy could be considered when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
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