Proposal to protect moms breast-feeding in workplace passes committee in Utah House

Posted at 9:58 PM, Feb 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-14 00:15:45-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's anti-discrimination law could soon cover breast-feeding mothers. Friday, lawmakers debated a proposal aimed at ensuring new mothers could not be fired from work because of the practice.

While Utah currently has protections for pregnancy and pregnancy related conditions, Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City, said there is too much ambiguity when it comes to breast-feeding.

"It sets the flag in the sand, if you will, by the policy makers saying, 'Yes, this is a recognized protection,'" Miller said.

Miller is proposing legislation that would add language to the law, specifically stipulating that breast-feeding is protected. Initially, the bill made breast-feeding a new, protected class. However, by Friday it had been changed to state breast-feeding was a condition related to pregnancy.

"This takes that one step further," Miller said.

But some within the House Judiciary Committee weren't convinced an extra step was even necessary.

"When we talk about non-discrimination it's sort of a flashpoint, and I think that's really what was going on there," said Marina Lowe, legislative council for the ACLU of Utah.

Lowe took question after question from committee members on the issue. Much of the concern was on the length at which a person could be protected while breast-feeding, which the bill does not specify.

According to Lowe, federal law requires workplaces to make accommodations for breast-feeding for up to a year. But she noted their bill was a separate issue, as it is solely focused on protecting women from facing penalties for the practice, not requiring businesses to provide anything.

"I think we would have a very difficult time getting companies to cover something like this, and I think we would probably have a lot of companies drop some of the coverages under employment practices," said Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield.

Utah has already made changes to its anti-discrimination law on the issue, according to Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, who argued that there was no proof another edit was necessary.

"When I look at all of the other states and where we are," Christensen said, "It just doesn't seem to be either needed specifically or properly positioned."

The proposal passed the committee, with Oda and Christensen voting against it. The bill now goes to the full House for further debate.