Marybeth Baldwin said she worried about how she’d be able to breastfeed her baby after being summoned for jury duty.
“I am the only person who can feed our child, yet there are many others not in the same situation who can serve on a jury,” Baldwin said. “Breastfeeding a child is not an easy task, which is evidenced by the large number of mothers who are unable to meet their breastfeeding goals.”
But breastfeeding mothers in Hawaii like Baldwin could be excused from jury duty for up to two years if Hawaii lawmakers approve a bill that’s being considered this session. Hawaii lawmakers in the House passed the bill today. It now faces approval from the Senate.
So far, 17 states and Puerto Rico exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty or allow jury service to be postponed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Health professionals say breastfeeding benefits both mothers and their babies. They say infants who are exclusively breastfed tend to need fewer prescriptions and trips to the doctor than infants who were never breastfed.
The Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women Hawaii says only one in five children in Hawaii receives the absolute minimum of six months of breastfeeding, which is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“I myself breastfed my son until he was a little over three years old,” said Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, who introduced the bill. “If you get called for jury duty that would definitely create a challenge.”
The Hawaii bill was met with support from organizations including the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawaii and the Hawaii Women’s Coalition. The bill says some women who are called to serve jury duty may not have ready access to the proper pump and supplies that are needed to express breast milk.
But the Hawaii Judiciary said parents with a young child can already request an exemption from jury duty for up to a year. Lori Okita, chief court administrator of Hawaii’s First Circuit court, said the bill could open the door for other groups to push for automatic exemptions from jury duty.
In the long run, that could negatively impact the need for a diverse pool of potential jurors, she said.