The Capitol is in the midst of a decade-long, five-phase HVAC renovation project that requires a portion of the building to close every 18 months to two years, forcing the shuffling of offices.
This summer, the project moved into a new phase, closing the northwest quadrant of the building and pushing Larry Bare, the former chief of staff for two governors who now works for the Legislature’s Executive Board, out of his office.
Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango moved Bare not to an empty or little-used space but into the Capitol’s mothers' room -- a short-sighted decision that rightfully has been roundly criticized on social media and by the female senators who battled Legislative recalcitrance, then found outside funding to establish the room for pregnant and nursing mothers.
“It’s devastating, disappointing, disheartening,” Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh said on the legislative floor last week. “Pro-life state, my butt. If we can’t support the working mothers in this building - man - it’s like talking out of both sides of your mouth.”
The entire process, from the failure of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee to address her bill that would have established a mothers’ room two years ago through Hughes’ decision to close the room to provide an office for Bare, Cavanaugh said.
Sen. Megan Hunt went further, saying “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.”
Exclusion is precisely what Hughes did in making the decision to close the mothers’ room without consulting any of the Legislature’s female senators -- who supported its creation -- or putting the matter before the Executive Board.
Hughes’ reasoning for converting the mothers’ room to an office was equally flawed. He said the room isn’t used often, the move is temporary and there is no alternative.
The justification that the room is little used could be said of other spaces in the Capitol, too. It is a very large building, and there are surely other rooms that are used even less than the mothers’ room.
That the move is temporary isn’t a way to justify the action that sets back the efforts for access to the Capitol for pregnant and nursing women.
And the alternative is a “pod” inside a first-floor copy room, which was rejected by the senators who fought for the mothers' room as inadequate as it has no sink and lacks privacy.
There’s a relatively simple solution to this problem: Find another room where Bare can work until the project is complete, and restore the mothers’ room.
But overcoming the underlying equality for women, especially mothers, is a much longer and tougher battle.