When the final night of the session and one of the most important votes — on affordable housing and key family leave policies — rolled around, California assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) realized what she must do.
Wicks had just given birth to her daughter Elly, who was born with jaundice, a few days earlier on July 26. Elly’s condition means that Wicks cannot be away from her for an entire day, as her baby requires consistent nourishment to stay healthy. Wicks was understandably worried about bringing Elly along to cast her vote — that would mean exposing both her daughter and herself to 80 other legislators and their staff for an extended period of time. To make matters even worse, a state Senator had contracted the coronavirus just a week before the vote.
Determined to vote, Wicks requested the ability to vote by proxy, as a new policy for remote voting now allows members considered to be “high risk” to vote from home, rather than in person on the House floor. Her request was denied by House Speaker Anthony Rendon (D), whose press secretary told The Hill that the requirements of the new policy are “very specific,” and only applied sparingly to members with health concerns.
“My daughter’s immune system is basically nonexistent,” Wicks told The Lily. “But I was told that maternity leave didn’t qualify for in-proxy voting.”
Wicks was still afraid of the health risks associated with a visit to Sacramento with Elly in tow, a 90-minute drive from her home, but decided to forge ahead while making sure to take every possible precaution, remaining in her office until she had to go to the floor to vote.
Mommy & soon-to-be mommy came to Sacramento today to do the people’s work! pic.twitter.com/vIt6zlR7IM— Buffy Wicks (@BuffyWicks) September 1, 2020
When it came time to vote on the housing bill, Wicks, who was in the middle of breastfeeding her daughter, ran down to the House floor to explain the reasoning for her vote.
“I ran down on the floor today because I strongly believe that we need to pass this bill. We are 3.5 million homes shy of where we need to be right now,” she said, and then Elly cried. “And Elly agrees.”
The family leave bill, which would require a larger majority of businesses to provide paid parental leave for their staff, was passed as Wicks cast the 41st and final vote needed to clear the House.
After a long day in Sacramento, Wicks was also relieved to see the massive support she was receiving on social media from fellow politicians and people all over the country, as footage of the assemblywoman staying at the Capitol well into the night with young Elly went viral.
California Assemblymember @buffywicks was told that having recently given birth wasn’t sufficient excuse to cast a vote remotely.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 1, 2020
So she brought her newborn daughter to the floor to weigh in on an important housing bill. https://t.co/elofHmIcxl pic.twitter.com/ZQf9F10qKE
Since then, Wicks has also received an apology from Rendon, who said on Tuesday night that he would "commit to doing better.”
"My intention was never to be inconsiderate toward her, her role as a legislator, or her role as a mother," Rendon said in a statement. "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."