California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks wasn’t given one. The mom of two was forced to travel from Oakland to Sacramento with her newborn daughter because the assembly leadership denied her request to vote by proxy on Monday, Politico reports. She was told that her recent labor did not qualify her as high-risk for the coronavirus, even though several members of the upper chamber, the state senate, were allowed to vote remotely.
“Please, please, please pass this bill,” she said on the Assembly floor while holding her 1-month-old daughter, Elly, and advocating for legislation that would make it easier to create multi-unit housing. “And I’m going to go finish feeding my daughter.”
On Twitter, she confirmed her presence in the capital after a reporter said she was “absent” due to maternity leave, and a fellow mom and consultant quickly corrected him to point out that Wicks was present. “Yep, I’m here! (And so is Elly),” she replied, with a photo of baby Elly in a carrier and covered with a swaddle.
She also posted a video of herself speaking while holding her squirmy newborn.
Apparently, the California Assembly adopted rules on August 3 to allow proxy voting, but it must be approved by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and eligible members “shall be at a higher risk from the COVID-19 virus.” Wicks requested to vote by proxy, but was denied “on the grounds that maternity leave is not eligible for proxy voting,” said her spokesperson Erin Ivie.
A spokesperson for Rendon, who denied her request, said the lawmaker stood by the decision.
“The speaker understands that members are committed to performing their legislative duties, while still trying to minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure. The house resolution pertaining to proxy voting is very specific, in that only members at a higher risk from COVID-19 will be considered eligible for proxy voting,” Talbot told Politico. “This bar of eligibility was always intended to be high, to ensure the protection of our legislative process.”
It’s a strange stance for the speaker, who became a father at the end of last year, and talked to the press about taking paternity leave and how his then 3-month-old was keeping him up at night. Stranger still because he has previously fought for expanding paid leave in the state. Clearly, he understands the importance of bonding with your baby in those first early weeks.
Less than 5 percent of people in Congress are moms with young children, according to Vote Mama, a political action committee that supports Democratic moms with young children running for office up and down the ballot. And because state legislatures are often a critical springboard for higher office, we should be making it easier for moms to serve as elected leaders. Not harder.
Leaving coronavirus risks aside (although we’d hazard a guess it’s a pretty big concern for moms of newborns), the better question is: Why can’t lawmakers on maternity and paternity leave vote remotely or by proxy at any time? Don’t they deserve the same leave as moms and dads everywhere?