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After experiencing the first day of new senator orientation with infant son Barrett, Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh left the 4-month-old in Omaha on day two.

But when she inquired the next day about where she could go to pump breast milk, Cavanaugh said she learned the same lesson as other breastfeeding mothers before her.

There are no designated, private spaces for women to breastfeed or pump inside the Capitol walls, Cavanaugh told the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Friday.

Other women had used vacant offices, or an out-of-the-way room set aside for a doctor, while others had taken over a spacious stall in a bathroom designed for parents with young children.

The Capitol should do more to accommodate nursing mothers who work at or visit the people's building, she said.

“When we have people coming to testify for various issues that are nursing mothers, or people who are working here that are nursing mothers,” Cavanaugh said, “we should have a space for them that is hygienic and accessible.”

Along with 12 co-sponsors — all women — Cavanaugh introduced a bill (LB709) requiring a dedicated nursing station be created inside the Capitol that meets the needs of senators, staff and visitors.

While she later discussed options for creating a designated space with access to running water and electricity with Bob Ripley, administrator of the Office of the Capitol Commission, Cavanaugh said her bill is an effort “to keep that conversation moving forward.” 

Courtney Lyons, a legislative aide to Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, said new mothers among the Capitol staff have worked to “patch together a schedule of borrowing spaces,” while employees working in the State Office Building have a private space to breastfeed or pump.

“Could we continue to make do depending on the kindness and schedules of our coworkers?” she asked. “Probably, but this lack of designated space sends a message to every mom with young kids, whether they work here or are visiting, that we’re not welcome here.”

Lawmakers have recently created statutes requiring public schools to accommodate student mothers’ needs when it comes to breastfeeding, Scout Richters of the ACLU of Nebraska pointed out. The civil-rights organization has also provided the Legislature with reports on the lactation supports available to college and university students.

The Capitol Commission ordered a lactation station and it has been installed in the first-floor copier room. It works for mothers who need it for a single use, Cavanaugh said. But with no water, “it’s not a great solution for staff who are here all day.”

The lactation station, which senators described as a futuristic-looking pod, won’t be fully online until the end of April, Ripley said. And when the first phase of the Capitol's heating and air renovation is complete, the pod will need to be moved to another area of the building.

Although the committee did not take any action on LB709 on Friday, Cavanaugh has asked Speaker Jim Scheer to make it a priority bill this session, which increases its chances of making it on the agenda.

Passing out copies of artwork she commissioned from Nebraska-born artist Rajiv Fernandez depicting the Sower as a nursing mother, Cavanaugh said she hopes the image will soon hang in a room dedicated to nursing mothers.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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