State senators voted Wednesday to allow mothers to breastfeed children of any age in public, setting aside concerns that it might open the door to “weird things” involving bar patrons.
Tennessee is one of 44 states with laws allowing a woman to breastfeed in public, but it’s the only state with an age limit for the child. Under current law, mothers risk indecent exposure charges if they publicly breastfeed a child who is older than 12 months.
“Why in the world would a breastfeeding mother be charged with indecent exposure for breastfeeding her child? Why would that be the business of the state of Tennessee? Who’s going to ID the child to determine whether or not they’re 1 year? So that was the impetus for bringing this bill,” Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Kingsport, told the Senate General Welfare, Health and Human Resources Committee.
But Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, said he worries that, by lifting the age limit entirely, the bill might have unintended consequences.
“Is 35 a child?” he asked. “I know that sounds crazy but I’m thinking of how an attorney would use this in a situation in a bar where maybe things got a little crazy or whatever. … I know I’m way out on the fringe … but weird things happen in our society.”
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, agreed the law should set an age limit. “There are a lot of crazy people in the world,” he said. His amendment to limit breastfeeding to children under the age of 3 failed.
“I’m afraid the abnormal psychology classes are going to be studying [the committee’s proceedings] if we don’t move on pretty soon,” Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, complained as the debate continued. “This legislation, if adopted, will provide a mother has a right to breastfeed her child. It’s only her child. It’s not any child, and it’s not anybody else.”
“I feel like all of us, we were weaned too soon and we’re obsessed with it,” he added. “Let’s just move on.”
The committee voted 7-1 for the bill, which already has won House approval.