Why this California Assemblywoman had to bring her baby to the floor to vote

Like too many parents who haven't had access to work accommodations, Buffy Wicks was forced to make it work.

California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks and baby

There are so many way that employers and the government can accommodate parents right now, and remote work is one of them. And when California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks brought her newborn onto the Assembly floor recently it was because she was denied remote voting.

Wicks gave birth in late July and requested a proxy vote, which would've allowed another lawmaker to vote on her behalf, due to concerns about COVID-19, POLITICO reported. But Assembly leadership denied her request on the grounds that her recent labor and maternity leave status didn't put her at high-risk for the virus, she told POLITICO.


So, Wicks traveled from Oakland to Sacramento and debated legislation on the Assembly floor until after midnight—with her newborn in her arms.

The legislation, SB 1120, was meant to address the housing crisis in Sacramento. It would have allowed construction of multi-unit housing in areas previously zoned for single-family homes, CNN reported. Though the Assembly did end up passing the bill, it didn't make it to the Senate in time for a second vote, Palo Alto Online reported.

During the hours-long debate over the bill, Wicks said, "I was actually in the middle of feeding my daughter when this bill came up, and I ran down to the floor today because I strongly believe we need to pass this bill. We are 3.5 million homes shy of where we need to be right now in this state." Her newborn, Elly, cries, so Wicks added, "And Elly agrees."

She finishes with "Please, please, please pass this bill, and I'm going to go finish feeding my daughter."

The moment captures what moms who have been denied work accommodations have been forced to do for so long: They make it work, even if that means debating a bill after midnight while holding a crying newborn in the middle of a pandemic.

The California Assembly rules adopted on August 3 state that Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon has to approve requests to vote by proxy, and that eligible members "shall be at a higher risk from the COVID-19 virus," POLITICO reported.

A spokesperson for Wicks said her request was denied "on the grounds that maternity leave is not eligible for proxy voting." POLITICO pointed out that birth can result in a number of immunocompromised conditions, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also noted that some pregnant people can be at a higher risk for COVID-19.

Still, Wicks showed up, writing on Twitter alongside a photo of her daughter, "Yep, I'm here! (And so is Elly)."

After the bill failed to get through the Senate, Wicks tweeted, "Absolutely devastated about #SB1120. Our housing crisis requires us to act, and tonight we failed to do that. But I promise you this: I will *always* show up for housing — no matter what."

But she has received support from parents across the internet, including actor Alyssa Milano and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Though Wicks did what she had to do, people on Twitter shared a common sentiment: She shouldn't have had to show up with a newborn. Like too many parents who haven't had access to paid leave or work accommodations, Wicks was forced to make it work.

California assembly speaker Anthony Rendon (D) apologized to Wicks this week by issuing a statement: "My intention was never to be inconsiderate toward [Wicks], her role as a legislator, or her role as a mother," Rendon said. "Inclusivity and electing more women into politics are core elements of our Democratic values. Nevertheless, I failed to make sure our process took into account the unique needs of our members. The Assembly needs to do better."

Jo Yurcaba is a writer and editor living in central North Carolina. They cover women's health, LGBTQ+ rights, and politics. When they're not writing, they're usually riding horses or eating lots of southern food.

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