JEFFERSON CITY — An ailing Missouri lawmaker's bill that would prevent nursing mothers from being penalized for breast-feeding in public or being required to serve on juries gained final legislative approval Monday.
Legislative leaders moved quickly to pass the measure sponsored by Democratic Rep. Rory Ellinger, of University City, who has liver cancer and has been unable to attend recent legislative sessions. Senators approved the measure 31-0 on Monday after it passed the House 150-0 last week. The legislation now heads to Gov. Jay Nixon.
Under the bill, nursing mothers could be excused from jury duty with a written note from a doctor. The legislation also states breast-feeding in public or private would not count as sexual conduct and bars cities from enacting ordinances to restrict breast-feeding in places where mothers and children otherwise are allowed.
Supporters said there have been instances recently in the Kansas City-area of women being called to jury duty while nursing. A trial judge has delayed collecting a $500 fine for contempt in at least one case until after the legislative session.
The state breast-feeding coordinator said breast-feeding can boost infants' cognitive abilities while decreasing risks for obesity, diabetes and other health problems for babies and mothers.
Much of the legislative debate focused on Ellinger, 72, and his public service. He won election in 2010 and withdrew from plans to seek re-election this year while citing health reasons. He was hospitalized in March.
Republicans and Democrats praised Ellinger for his kindness and a commitment to issues about which he cared deeply.
Sen. Joe Keaveny, who handled the bill in the Senate and shared an apartment with Ellinger, said he probably was the legislature's most liberal member. House Minority Leader Jake Hummel called Ellinger a good person who will be missed.
"We truly appreciate all he's done for us. He always makes us laugh. He's light-hearted, but he's also a serious individual that cares deeply about every one of his issues," said Hummel, D-St. Louis. "And he never waivers from what he believes in and we truly appreciate that."
Ellinger was the press secretary for Tom Eagleton when he was Missouri's lieutenant governor. He lost a 1972 election to a state House seat covering part of central Missouri's Boone County by 870 votes and lost in the 1984 Democratic primary for another House district. According to his biography, Ellinger was a bodyguard for Martin Luther King Jr. and marched in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery.