By John Celock
Missouri is one step closer to allowing breastfeeding mothers to be exempt from jury duty under a plan approved Wednesday by the state House of Representatives.
The legislation was inspired by a case in Kansas City from October where Lee’s Summit resident Laura Trickle was told she would be fined or potentially jailed for asking to be excused from jury duty to breastfeed her newborn son. Lawmakers said that it was time to bring Missouri law in line with 15 other states, including neighboring Kansas in allowing the exemption.
“It would be good for the mom, the baby and the person on trial so they can the full attention of the jury,” one lawmaker said in the debate.
The debate over the bill also centered on honoring the legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City). Ellinger is suffering from cancer and could not attend the session. Lawmakers who spoke on the breastfeeding bill praised Ellinger for his service and his work on the legislation.
In Trickle’s case, a Jackson County judge ruled that she would not receive an exemption saying that she had other options. These options included using a breast pump during trial breaks or bringing a babysitter to court with her to watch her son and then being able to breastfeed during breaks in a private room. She said both would not be workable in her case.
Under the Missouri legislation, mothers will be able to use breastfeeding as an exemption. Mothers would need to produce a doctor’s note that they are breastfeeding.
Lawmakers noted that they are currently excused from jury service by serving in the Legislature and that they should allow for an additional exemption.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, currently 15 states and Puerto Rico allow for breastfeeding to be used as an exemption. NCSL notes that Missouri does have laws that allow for breastfeeding in public locations in the state and a breastfeeding awareness campaign.
Rep. Gina Mitten (D-St. Louis) told her colleagues that while the state has taken steps to be more receptive to breastfeeding mothers, more needed to be done.
“We’ve come a long way,” Mitten said. “When I had my first child over 20 years ago I was asked to leave more than one place when I was exercising my motherly duties.”
States That Allow Breastfeeding Jury Duty Exemptions
According to National Conference of State Legislatures
Puerto Rico also has the exemption.