Is this the 21st century?
It does not appear that’s the case at the State Capitol in Lincoln as female legislators still are battlling to have a small room set aside in the massive building where breastfeeding mothers who work there can express milk in private and have a hygienic place to clean pump parts.
When state Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha joined the Legislature in 2019, she became the first woman to breastfeed on the floor of the Legislature. At that time, the only place where women could express milk in the Capitol was in the corner of a restroom that had a privacy wall, a chair and an outlet.
So Cavanaugh introduced a bill, with almost all the women in the Legislature at the time signing on as co-sponsors, to create a dedicated space for nursing mothers in the building. The bill never got out of committee.
The state later installed a “pod” for nursing mothers in a room with photocopiers on the Capitol’s first floor. But it didn’t have a water source at all.
Cavanaugh then met with a group of legislators and a representative from the Capitol Commission and a different space was identified. There was no funding, so she secured the money to set it up from a private donor.
The room had been in use by pregnant and nursing mothers since then. But this past week, Cavanaugh learned that the room had been temporarily converted into an office during a renovation project at the Capitol.
“It is devastating, disappointing, disheartening,” Cavanaugh said during debate on the floor of the Legislature.
State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha also spoke out about the situation, urging the Legislature to do something about it.
“This is what misogyny is: It’s institutional, systemic decision-making on the part of people to exclude women, to exclude people who have these experiences,” Hunt said.
State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln also brought up the topic in an Executive Board meeting Thursday morning, urging the board to discuss it.
There clearly has been no priority placed on the needs of pregnant and nursing mothers who work in our state’s Capitol. This is unacceptable from a state government. It should be leading the way in inclusion and meeting the needs of all of its employees.
The simple fact that Cavanaugh has been struggling with this need of working mothers ever since she became a legislator in 2019 shows a clear message that women really are not valued at our Capitol.
If that isn’t the message that our legislators and other state officials want to be sending, they should act quickly to restore the mothers’ room.