Should federal buildings like the Capitol and the Smithsonians be required to have lactation rooms for mothers?
Since 2010, federal law has required all employers with 50+ employees to provide a designated non-bathroom room for mothers to pump breastmilk. A 2018 law required all large- and medium-sized airports offer the same.
There is no similar requirement on federal facilities, such as those in Washington D.C. including the Capitol Building, the memorials, and the Smithsonian museums.
What the bill does
The Fairness For Breastfeeding Mothers Act would mandate that most federal buildings establish a separate room (aside from a bathroom) for breastfeeding mothers.
The House version was introduced in January as bill number H.R. 866 by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC0). The Senate version was introduced in February as bill number S. 528 by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the move helps mothers and brings federal facilities’ amenities for visitors in line with employees.
“The benefits of breastfeeding are so well-documented that federal agencies have long encouraged breastfeeding,” Rep. Norton said in a press release. “Considering that millions of people visit federal sites across the country, particularly here in the nation’s capital, it is essential that we ensure nursing mothers have access to designated, private and hygienic lactation spaces in our federally owned or leased buildings.”
“Importantly, our bipartisan bill does not require new federal funds or new or exclusive spaces to be permanently set aside, only that space be made available to visitors as needed,” Rep. Norton continued. “This bill was passed by a Republican House in 2017 and a Democratic House today. I look forward to working with our friends in the Senate to enact it into law.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the bill may cost too much money.
“The General Services Administration that ultimately gave the numbers to the CBO on which they base their score did not get in final form how many Federal buildings we are talking about,” former Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC1) said on the House floor when opposing the bill in 2017. “I think that leaves, therefore, something of an open end as to what this bill will ultimately cost; and that then goes to impact the very children for whom the breastfeeding will take place.”
Nobody spoke on the House floor in opposition to the 2019 version.
Odds of passage
The House version passed by voice vote on February 6, a tactic usually used for relatively uncontroversial bills in which no record of individual votes is recorded. It now proceeds to the Senate.
A prior version passed the House by voice vote in March 2017, under Republican control. Yet that version never received a Senate vote, despite having 22 months in that chamber.
It’s possible the same fate could befall the legislation again. The Senate version was introduced by a Republican and so far has attracted four cosponsors, all Democrats.