Since its passage in 2006, Tennessee's public breastfeeding law has been trouble. It reads:
68-58-101. Right to breastfeed in any location. —
A mother has a right to breastfeed her child who is twelve (12) months of age or younger in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be present.
The only state breastfeeding law with an age limit, Tennessee's statute isn't just problematic because it reserves whatever protection it might provide to children twelve months or younger. It also creates the possibility that public breastfeeding of a child older than twelve months is unlawful in some way.
Breastfeeding in public is legal in every state. However, it is not protected in every state. Most U.S. states now have some law stating that a woman may breastfeed in public. However, women continue to be harassed and evicted from public space when they do. That is why state breastfeeding laws must have enforcement provisions – a legal recourse available to women who have been prevented from breastfeeding in public space.
Tennessee's public breastfeeding law doesn't have an enforcement provision. And this continues to be a problem. However, placing an age limit on the provision of the health code I quote above both creates the possibility that a store owner or police officer will assume public breastfeeding of children over twelve months is illegal but also creates a fear among women that they aren't legally allowed to breastfeed older children in public.
A bill has been introduced in the Tennessee state Senate that would resolve one of these issues. Senate Bill 0083 states:
BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:
SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 68-58-101, is amended by deleting
the language "who is twelve (12) months of age or younger" in its entirety.
SECTION 2. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 39-13-511(d), is amended by
deleting the language "who is twelve (12) months of age or younger" in its entirety.
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect July 1, 2011, the public welfare requiring it.
Introduced this month by state Senator Mike Faulk, I haven't seen much press on this bill. If you live in Tennessee, it is important you contact Senator Faulk's office and find out what support this bill needs. While you are in touch with his office, adding that Tennessee's public breastfeeding law needs an enforcement provision as well would help bring attention to this problem. But eliminating the age limitation is urgent and long overdue.
I'd love to hear from anyone in Tennessee who has had experience with this law or who can share her experience nursing in public. Are you a nursing Tennessean?