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Proposed Jury Duty Exemption Stirs Discussion of Breastfeeding Age Limit

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- After a Kansas City woman was faced with a $500 fine for contempt of court for bringing her breastfeeding infant to jury duty, some called for a change in Missouri law to exempt breastfeeding women from jury duty. The judge in that case has delayed fining her $500 until the end of the legislative session, to see whether lawmakers approve a specific exemption.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- After a Kansas City woman was faced with a $500 fine for contempt of court for bringing her breastfeeding infant to jury duty, some called for a change in Missouri law to exempt breastfeeding women from jury duty.   The judge in that case has delayed fining her $500 until the end of the legislative session, to see whether lawmakers approve a specific exemption.

Representative Rory Ellinger (D-University City)

Representative Rory Ellinger (D-University City)

Representative Rory Ellinger (D-University City)is the sponsor of legislation to do just that, and he has told the House Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities he was hopeful the bill could make the House consent calendar, for bills that have no opposition.

It did meet some bipartisan resistance, however, from lawmakers who asked whether such an exemption should be limited to apply only to mothers of children up to a certain age.

Representative Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville)suggested the language could be strengthened even more than that to avoid such an exemption being abused.

“I could almost see an amendment to make (an exemption be contingent) on sustainment of life of the child to where it’s necessary for the child’s life and that’s the only means of life for that child,” Brattin said.

Representative Genise Montecillo (D-St. Louis) also wants to see a limit to the age of children involved in order for a mother to get an exemption.

“I would think as they get older there’s going to be other food sources,” Montecillo said. “I doubt that a 5-year-old is only nursing.”

The Committee heard from Columbia midwife Sara Davis, who told the committee there is no recognized maximum age at which a child can breastfeed.

“The Advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and also the World Health Organization is only minimums … no health organization has ever set a maximum age limit.”

Representative Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) was not convinced that an age limit is a good idea.

“I just think that this is … talk about a sacred bond between a mother and a child and a great gift that a mother gives to her child in terms of good health and nutrition for the life of the child. I can’t believe that we’re thinking about putting what I would call some kind of arbitrary limits on this.”

The Committee’s chairman, Representative Jeff Grisamore (R-Lee’s Summit), intends to bring the bill up for a vote but he wants to see amendments offered that could clear up what he sees as possible unintended consequences.

“I think it’s needed but we don’t want the unintended consequence of discrimination against nursing moms who may nurse their children until 2 or 3 years old, which is not uncommon. The other thing is there could be a mechanism of clarification for electronic notification to the court … to where a mom won’t have to go through a doctor visit just to get a note.”

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