The state House has given initial approval to legislation meant to lift restrictions on breastfeeding and give breastfeeding mothers the ability to opt out of jury duty. The original bill was offered by Representative Rory Ellinger (D-University City), who is battling liver cancer and was not able to be at the Capitol as the bill was debated.

Representative Rory Ellinger (courtesy Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Rory Ellinger (courtesy Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Ellinger filed a bill addressing the jury duty issue in response to an incident in which a judge in Jackson County found a Lee’s Summit woman in contempt of court and put a $500 fine against her on hold until the end of the legislative session, to see if lawmakers would weigh in on such situations.

An amendment offered by Representative Kurt Bahr (R-St. Charles) changed the bill to require judges to excuse breastfeeding mothers from jury duty if the mother requests it and has a statement from her physician that she is a nursing mother.

His amendment would also clarify that a mother can nurse a child or express breast milk in any public or private place she is otherwise authorized to be and requires only that she use discretion. It would also specify that breast-feeding a child does not fall under the state’s statutory definition of sexual conduct or contact, or violate laws against public indecency or indecent exposure.

See the legislation, HB 1320

Bahr says he and other lawmakers wanted to address other concerns for mothers while making sure Ellinger would get the credit.

“I filed the same language that the Senate had,” says Bahr, “One of the reasons I wanted to go ahead and change his bill as much as I did is so that the Senate would in fact accept his bill and pass his bill, so when it’s signed by the Governor it will be Representative Ellinger’s bill number.”

Ellinger was said to be listening to debate from home, and lawmakers offered him emotional messages of support among their comments on the legislation.

Representative Genise Montecillo (D-St Louis) said, “Representative Ellinger and I didn’t always see eye to eye in policy but I think we both are very passionate when we come from our positions. The one thing I never doubted was his dedication to what was important. Rory, I hope you’re doing well. You’re in my prayers.”

The legislation needs another favorable vote to go to the Senate.

Earlier story: Proposed jury duty exemption stirs discussion of breastfeeding age limit