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Council member says she has right to breastfeed at meetings, retains civil rights lawyer to challenge chair

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. -- Catherine Emmanuelle believes she has the right to breastfeed her infant son at council meetings, and the Eau Claire city councilwoman is fighting the council president's directive to stop the practice.Emmanuelle has retained ...

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Catherine Emmanuelle. Courtesy Photo / University of Wisconsin Eau Claire
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. - Catherine Emmanuelle believes she has the right to breastfeed her infant son at council meetings, and the Eau Claire city councilwoman is fighting the council president’s directive to stop the practice.

Emmanuelle has retained a civil rights lawyer claiming state statutes allow mothers to breastfeed in public wherever the mother and child are authorized to be.

City Council President Kerry Kincaid objected to Emmanuelle having her son with her during public meetings at the dais - an elevated platform. Kincaid said she rejected Emmanuelle’s request based on her duties as chairperson.

“I do have a responsibility as the chair to maintain meeting decorum and I relied on past practice of how meetings have been run over the last 100 years,” she said, adding that she balanced that decision against her experience as a mother and understanding the need to provide for a child.

Kincaid said she made an agreement with Emmanuelle for the council member to sit behind the city clerk’s desk in public seating to feed her son. Emmanuelle said she made it work for a while, but found it didn’t allow her to do her job effectively.

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“If she is not seated with her colleagues at the dais, she cannot participate in the meetings and discussions,” Emmanuelle’s attorney Carousel Bayrd wrote in a letter to Kincaid. Emmanuelle wouldn’t be visible to speakers and wouldn’t be able to direct questions or comments to the public, staff and other council members.

“As such, council member Emmanuelle will no longer entertain any request to keep herself away from the dais when she is executing her job duties and rights as an elected official,” Bayrd wrote.

Kincaid said after receiving the letter from Bayrd on Oct. 9, she decided the matter should come before the full council.

A resolution on the subject that will come before council members on Tuesday, Oct. 24, states the request to allow a child to be with a parent at the dais is “contrary to long-established council meeting decorum.”

In a letter to council members, city attorney Steve Nick stated that although the resolution implies breastfeeding as an issue, the resolution is specifically written to address whether children and toddlers are allowed to be on the dais.

“It is my legal opinion that the City Council has authority to establish rules of order, protocol and decorum in its chambers,” Nick wrote. “This authority is sufficient to determine whether a member may bring others, namely children, with them to the dais.”

Kincaid said she believes that breastfeeding would be allowed on the dais if infants and toddlers are permitted.

By approving the resolution the council would grant a “limited exception” to that protocol, so long as the child isn’t disruptive to the meetings.

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Asked whether she believes such a decision would set a precedent for other mothers to ask permission to breastfeed, Kincaid said she didn’t know what impact the decision would have for other governing bodies.

“I only know that 11 people are about to decide a protocol for our meeting,” she said.

Related Topics: FAMILY
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