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Senate votes to gut pregnancy accommodations proposal, changes it to study committee

Posted at 8:53 PM, Feb 03, 2020
and last updated 2021-10-01 10:40:14-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Most Indiana Senate Republicans voted Monday to strip a proposal that would give pregnant women more accommodations in the workplace and turn the bill into a study committee.

The change means no meaningful action will happen with regards to pregnant women in the workplace in 2020.

The initial bill, authored by Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, would’ve required employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant women. Those accommodations included some of the following examples:

  • More frequent or longer breaks
  • Unpaid time off work to recover from childbirth
  • Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or less hazardous position
  • Work break time for expressing breast milk
  • Private nonbathroom space for expressing breast milk
  • Assistance with physical or manual labor

At an equal pay event last month, Alting discussed his bill, saying nobody should be against the term “reasonable accommodations.”

“We’re not asking you to go build a day care,” Alting said. “We’re not asking you to build out a room so a mother can get her breast milk. We’re not asking you to bring in beds from a fancy furniture store for accommodations. We’re asking for reasonable accommodations. Hello? What am I missing here?”

Monday evening, Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington, introduced the amendment that deleted all language in the bill, and replaced it with an urging to create a committee to study “pregnancy and childbirth accommodations and the fiscal impact on businesses within Indiana.”

Zay said he was concerned about how the bill would affect small businesses in the state.

“I believe, naturally in my background, that small business is the engine that works,” he said. “They’re the ones where the best ideas and the jobs of tomorrow come from.”

In debate, Senate Democrats heavily criticized the amendment.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take for one of us to recognize how important it is for people who are pregnant to get accommodations,” Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said. “I bet you if there was a whole bunch of men who would get pregnant, this bill would’ve passed through quick. … We should be ashamed if we pass this amendment.”

Sen. Victoria Spartz, R-Noblesville, spoke in support of the amendment. She said she has two daughters, and had to work two days before her delivery, then return to work when they were 12 weeks old. She said she was worried about the impact the initial bill would have on smaller businesses.

“We’re talking a lot about small companies here, too,” she said. “With some of these accommodations we can create, the companies wouldn’t even want to hire females. We don’t want to be in a position like that.”

The bill was one of Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s 2020 legislative priorities. He has repeatedly talked about wanting to improve Indiana’s infant and maternal health rankings, which are in the bottom half of the country.

Holcomb released the following statement about the Senate vote Monday:

“I put legislation requiring reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers on my agenda because I believe women should not have to choose between a paycheck and a healthy pregnancy. I still believe that and will work over the coming months to persuade the Indiana General Assembly to include these very same accommodations that 27 other states have already enacted. I remain committed to improving infant and maternal health in Indiana so more moms and their babies get off to a better start.”

The amendment passed, 34-15. Republicans Vaneta Becker, Mike Bohacek, Michael Crider, John Ruckelshaus and Alting joined the 10 Democrats in voting no. None of the five Republicans spoke about the amendment Monday. The amended bill will now be voted on by the full Senate, likely Tuesday.

Before Monday’s discussion, advocacy groups and Hoosier mothers pushed for the Senate to pass the original bill.

“All moms want reasonable accommodations to keep their pregnancies safe and healthy,” said Elaine Bonadies of Moms of Hoosier Action. “How many more babies must die in Indiana before the legislators will vote yes? All we're asking is for Senate Bill 342 to be heard today and to listen to moms in Indiana.”

While the groups were speaking Monday, Alting happened to walk into the Statehouse to begin his day. He gave them a thumbs-up as he entered the building.