Kids banned from council dais after breast-feeding debate

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — City leaders in one Wisconsin community have banned children from their meeting platform after a councilwoman said she wanted to breast-feed her baby from her seat at the dais during sessions.

The vote Tuesday by the Eau Claire City Council follows months of debate after Catherine Emmanuelle brought her baby to a meeting and breast-fed him while in her seat at the dais, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reported . Four council members complained, and Emmanuelle agreed to sit in the public area.

Several groups, including Moms Rising, came to Emmanuelle's defense. Thousands of petition signatures were sent to council members.

Emmanuelle told the council she has the legal right to feed her child at the dais. The resolution banning children passed 7-1, with Councilman Michael Xiong voting against it. Council members Emmanuelle, Kate Beaton and Andrew Werthmann abstaining.

"I'm not going to vote yes because I think voting yes would put me in a position that would start creating a precedent for other legislative bodies that colleagues have to seek elected peers' permission when there are no rules for bringing a child with you," Emmanuelle said.

City attorney Stephen Nick said other local government's handling of the issue is mixed.

"Some permit it, others do not," he said. "Even in a situation where rules would prohibit it, I can't speak to whether exceptions have been made."

Council President Kerry Kincaid says the vote means the council can ask that anyone not allowed at the dais be removed.

"From my perspective and what I learned from the city attorney, governing bodies have the right and responsibility of setting their meeting protocol," Kincaid said. "We set that to say who could be on the council dais, and we are well within our responsibility and right to do so."

Councilman Dave Strobe suggested having intermittent recesses to allow Emmanuelle to breast-feed her son without missing council business. But Emmanuelle said the 10-minute breaks may not be enough time to feed her son.

Emmanuelle said she plans to work with her attorney to determine her next steps.