By Naomi Bromberg Bar-Yam, PhD
Over the last several months, a team of breastfeeding advocates has worked with Senator Cynthia Creem and Representative Dan Carey to draft SD.629, “An Act improving access to breast pumps,” which they introduced in both state legislative houses in January 2023. This bill is important to improve equity in breastfeeding support and infant care. Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition will be leading the advocacy effort to pass the bill in this session (2023-2024).
Legislation takes time to pass—several years and legislative sessions—and longer to implement. So pack some snacks and buckle your seat belt; it’s a long bumpy ride.
How does it work?
After a bill is filed, concerned constituents throughout the Commonwealth contact their legislators to sponsor it. The number of sponsors indicates the level of support for the bill as it continues through the legislative process.
As supporters are getting sponsors, bills are assigned to a relevant committee, which holds public hearings and decides whether to request a fiscal note (impact statement), report the bill to another committee for further study, or send to the full legislature for a vote. Because the pump bill touches fiscal, insurance, and public health arenas, it will likely pass through multiple committees before it goes up for a full vote.
A similar bill was introduced in the last session and almost went before the whole legislature for a vote. With each new legislative session (two years in MA), bills must be reintroduced, and the process begins again. However, with each session, more legislators, advocates, and stakeholders join the conversation, fine tune the bill, and sometimes fit it with other related bills on the journey toward becoming law.
At its best, legislation furthers the common good. This includes mandating resource allocation, including funds, expertise, and time.
What do legislators do?
It is the responsibility of legislators to:
- Hear from their constituents and leaders about their priorities and needs;
- Represent their constituents’ interests;
- Solicit information and expertise they lack to make sound, just choices;
- Draft and support legislation that furthers constituents’ needs and values;
- Balance needs and resources among all bills before the legislature;
- Pass, fund, and ensure implementation of bills.
What is our role?
Advocates like us have impact at each step. It is not possible for legislators to have deep knowledge of all the bills they consider. They rely on the expertise of advocates who know and care deeply about individual bills to guide them. Advocates can support or oppose a bill. Corporations and industries often spend considerable money to hire professional advocates, lobbyists, who work in front of and behind the scenes to pass or defeat bills that will impact them.
Unfortunately, breastfeeding does not have its own lobby. It is up to concerned citizens and organizations to work together to advocate for bills supporting breastfeeding.
Stakeholders come from many backgrounds and each has something to contribute. Experts, providers and researchers, and those most affected—parents, grandparents, adults affected as babies—are crucial voices. Personal stories from constituents help decision-makers understand what is at stake and why the bill is important.
Advocates can impact the course of a bill by:
- Calling, writing to, or meeting with their legislators. Legislators know that for every constituent who takes the time to call or write about a bill, there are many others who also care about it.
- Testifying—in person, via Zoom, and/or in writing—at committee hearings;
- Galvanizing others to add their voices;
- Tracking the bill to implementation, to hold legislators and government agencies accountable;
- Paying attention to related bills to create a broad coalition supporting the many bills relevant to breastfeeding and maternal/child health.
Over the next few months, Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition will post action alerts, sample letters, and testimony. We are looking forward to working together on this bill to protect infant and maternal health equitably.
Naomi Bromberg Bar-Yam, PhD, has been working in maternal and child health for 35 years as an educator, researcher, advocate, and writer. She is past president of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) and is the founding director emerita of Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, which provides safe donor milk to hospitals and families throughout the northeastern US. Learn more about her on her LactSpeak profile.