Civil Liberties

Got Milk?

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In March, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill that would give employers a tax break if they set up a room with equipment for their working mothers to express breast milk in private.

That sounds pretty benign, but the bill is broken out of a larger breast-feeding "promotion and protection" act that was introduced in Congress last year. The comprehensive bill sought to regulate everything possibly related to lactation and employment–including mandating extra, unpaid breaks to express milk; setting FDA standards for breast pumps; and drafting anti-discrimination rules prohibiting employers from treating breast-feeding women "differently from other employees."

Such legislation may be good politics, but it exasperates Diane Barnes, the owner of three small shops that sell breast-feeding equipment in the Detroit area. She opposes the tax credit–and the other parts of the comprehensive bill–because employers are already moving in that direction voluntarily. Government mandates, she says, tend to kill evolving cooperative efforts.

Noting that major employers in her area, such as Ford and Chrysler, have already set up breast-feeding rooms without a push from the federal government, Barnes observes: "The laws are unnecessary. We already have companies responding to the needs of women who are breast-feeding."

Rep. Maloney, though, knows better. Though her comprehensive bill went nowhere last fall–it got lost in the shuffle following November's electoral upheavals–she intends to introduce the other parts in piecemeal fashion, so we can look forward to more attempts at regulating breast-feeding in the workplace.