PRESIDENTS' DAY Is Lobby Day at the State Capitol. In some sense, every day is lobby day in Olympia, but on Presidents’ Day (and a few other days during the legislative session) regular folks, rather than lobbyists, take to the Capitol to meet with their legislators.
This year, my husband, , and I decided to take our 9-month-old daughter, Charlotte, with us. I worried that it wouldn’t be appropriate to take a baby to Lobby Day. But civic participation is a core value in our family. It felt natural for Charlotte to come along. Still, I wondered whether I would be taken seriously by legislators and other constituents if I was bouncing a baby on my hip while I talk about committee amendments to a bill.
When we arrived in Olympia, however, my mind was quickly set at ease. Hundreds of parents, teachers and, yes, kiddos gathered on the steps of the legislative building. The Washington State PTA was in Olympia rallying in support of innovative teacher evaluation legislation and fully funding K-12 education. Their presence was particularly poignant in light of the Washington Supreme Court’s recent decision in McClearly v. State finding that the State is in violation of its constitutional “paramount duty” to fund public education.
It quickly became clear that children are not out of place on Lobby Day. The halls of government were crawling, literally in Charlotte’s case, with pint-sized constituents. The high-schoolers were doing leadership training; the elementary-schoolers were, well playing mostly; and the under-five set was cruising in strollers pushed by busy parents trying to avoid the ubiquitous western Washington drizzle.
Even the legislators were in on the act. Many of them had their families on hand. I was told that this would put them in better than usual spirits. And I hoped it was true because I had one serious piece of legislative business on my agenda for the day.
Senate Bill (SB) 6120, The Toxic Free Kids Act, would ban cancer causing flame retardants from consumer goods intended for children. These dangerous chemicals, called “Tris flame retardants,” were banned from children’s clothing in the 1970s. However, they recently began showing up in other children’s products in alarming levels. You see, the Washington Legislature recently banned a number of other harmful chemicals from children’s products. Instead of identifying safer alternatives, manufacturers reverted back to using the cancer causing Tris flame retardants.
The Toxic Free Kids Act not only bans Tris flame retardants from all children’s products, it also requires manufacturers to identify safer alternatives to stop the flip-flop from one harmful chemical to another.
Charlotte sat on my lap playing with my car keys as I sat in State Senator Andy Hill’s (R-Redmond) office, bending his staffer’s ear on the importance of banning all Tris flame retardants from children’s products. I’m accustomed to parenting while I do any number of other tasks, but I worried it would be distracting for the college-aged intern. He didn’t seem to mind. In fact, I felt that having my daughter with me lent credibility to my concerns. I’m not just a constituent. I’m a parent who uses the products we’re talking about on a daily basis.
Similarly, when another constituent turned the conversation to the subject of dental benefits for pregnant women on the State’s basic health plan, I could credibly chime in about the increased risk of premature labor associated with gum disease.
In the end, having a baby in tow was not a political liability; it was an asset because she is what Lobby Day is really about. It’s about shaping the community in which she will grow-up. A community that I hope will reflect the values of compassion, generosity, responsible capitalism, and education as the foundation of thriving middle class.
The Toxic Free Kids Act is now being considered by the Washington State House of Representatives. Please contact your legislators and let them know how important it is to ban all Tris flame retardants from children’s products. While there is a certain festivity to visiting the capital on lobby day, constituents can also write, email, or call their local legislators at anytime. But just-in-case you do make it to Olympia, I’ll let you in on a tip that every mom, turned political activist, must know: the women’s restroom on the second floor of the Cherberg Building has a “family-care” room that’s perfect for breastfeeding.
Laura Latta is a writer and stay-at-home mom living in Kirkland with her husband and new baby girl. You can contact her at email@example.com.