Monday, February 2, 2015

Breastfeeding Laws in South Dakota

I've shared a lot with you through the years about different things I do and am involved in.

You know I am a wife, mom of three (7, 5, & 3 months), Certified Birth Doula, Certified Childbirth Educator, Certified Lactation Counselor, I lead a Young Moms Group here in Mitchell, I help with our kids' church program at my church, and I'm basically overall just passionate about helping moms throughout their journey, wherever they are.

One thing I haven't talked much about is my involvement with trying to get laws passed in South Dakota to help pregnant, birthing, and breastfeeding moms. I serve on the board of SD Birth Matters, which is a consumer group dedicated to influencing lawmakers in Pierre to pass legislation in favor of evidence based care for young moms and their babies. We are particularly focused on birth and breastfeeding laws.

You may or may not know that South Dakota's legislative session is in full swing right now and that there is a bill relating to breastfeeding (SB77). I'd like to shed some light on what the law would be if passed, where it is in the legislative process, and where it needs to go from here.

But before I start on this particular breastfeeding bill, I want to be very clear that currently South Dakota has only two laws relating to breastfeeding. The first is a law that says a breastfeeding mom cannot be charged with indecency while breastfeeding. The 2nd is a law that exempts breastfeeding moms from jury duty. That's it.

This year the SD Breastfeeding Coalition and SD Birth Matters have collaborated to bring a law to protect breastfeeding moms who nurse in public. The law as originally written was as follows:
Notwithstanding any other provisions of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be present.

On Friday (1/30/15) our bill was heard in the Senate Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee. There were several of us who testified in favor of the bill. We shared some benefits of breastfeeding, the importance of not making a baby wait to nurse, as well as a couple stories of moms who were recently not allowed to nurse where they were.

Before the hearing, there was some scuttle that some legislators were concerned that there wasn't language about being discreet while nursing. There was also a bigger threat from SD Retailers and SD Commerce groups because the bill as written would take away private business' rights. As you might imagine, these groups have a lot more money and resources to lobby against our bill than we do to lobby for it. Neither of these groups went on record as being against the bill, but they are very powerful "behind the scenes".

So, to save our bill, one of our supportive Senators introduced an amendment. The bill passed the Committee hearing with the amendment and now reads:
A mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be present as long as the mother is in compliance with all other state and municipal laws. However, no municipality may outright ban breast feeding in public places.

This basically means that if a municipality (i.e. city) has any discretion (i.e. nursing with a cover or something similar) laws that the mom needs to follow them. We don't anticipate this being an issue, but if it becomes one, we will deal with it at a local level.

Now, all that said, there is still a long way to go before our state can add a law like this to statute. Every bill has the same path: Originating House Committee --> Originating House Floor --> Other House Committee --> Other House Floor --> Governor's Desk to be signed into law.

This bill originated in the Senate. So, it has passed the Senate HHS Committee (where only a few Senators voted on it) and either tomorrow or Wednesday it will be heard and voted on the Senate floor where all Senators will vote on it. If it passes the Senate floor, it will be sent over to the House side, where it will first have to pass the House HHS Committee (small number of House Representatives), then the House Floor (all House Representatives), and finally it can be sent to the Governor.

Throughout this whole process, we need all the help from YOU that we can get! There still may be a
threat from the Retailer and Commerce groups. We don't know how aggressively they will be lobbying against us, so we should be doing all we can to counter them. I want to encourage you to contact your Senator and respectfully ask him or her to vote yes on it. If you are a small business owner make sure to let them know you disagree with those in opposition to the bill. Again, the more respectful you are, the more weight your request pulls.

Being involved in Pierre is very eye-opening! I would encourage everyone to take note of the goings-on in Pierre every year and get involved by attending Cracker-Barrels (weekend sessions where you can meet your legislators and ask them questions) and contacting your district's legislators to let them know what you think on bills that affect you.

So, please email your Senator tonight and ask them to vote YES on SB77. It's time SD join the other 47 states that have similar laws, and we need your help!

You can find who your district legislators are here:

You can send your legislator an email from here:

Here is a link to the bill where you can listen to Friday's hearing and follow the progress of the bill:

Thanks for your support - YOU can help protect nursing moms in SD!!


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