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A new Utah coalition of nonprofit organizations and advocates for women's and children's issues is pushing to get three bills passed in the upcoming legislative session, including two bolstering legal protections of breastfeeding mothers.
Stephanie Pitcher announced the launch of the Utah Women's Coalition on Wednesday, saying she didn't see as much support as she expected for some bills last session. She wanted to bring together groups who care about Utah families and children to pool their resources on Capitol Hill.
"It's hard to pass public policy alone," she said.
Pitcher declined to give an exact number of how many organizations have joined because many are still getting final approval from their boards.
Among the groups that have been identified are the ACLU of Utah and Voices for Utah Children.
The coalition has lined up sponsors for its top priority bills this session.
Sens. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, and Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, will press for expansions of a law enacted last year that prohibits employers from discrimination against nursing women. Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is sponsoring legislation that would provide parental leave to state employees.
Romero said she hopes that if the state takes the first step in granting parental leave, private businesses will follow suit.
"We're the state of Utah, we lead by example," she said. Her bill is still being drafted and she said she would have more details in coming weeks.
Weiler's SB59 would require employers public and private to provide reasonable accommodation for pregnant or breastfeeding women, including possibly, extra breaks or a place to have some privacy.
Dabakis' bill would add breastfeeding mothers to the public accommodation act.
The law currently allows the state attorney general's office to investigate a business as a public nuisance if it discriminates against people based a variety reasons such race or sexual identity. A company found to violate the law can be enjoined from doing so in the future.
Dabakis said Utah is known as a family state and it's time to stop shaming women for doing something natural.
Marina Lowe, legislative counsel for the ACLU of Utah, said she has heard numerous stories of women being kicked out of businesses for nursing a child.
"It's natural and most nutritionists agree it's one of the most healthy ways to raise a child if you can do it," Lowe said.
More details on the legislation are forthcoming.