State Watch

California Assembly Speaker apologizes after denying legislator on maternity leave proxy vote

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California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D) on Tuesday issued an apology to Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D) after news of her being forced to attend a legislative session with her newborn baby prompted swift backlash.

Wicks earlier this week attended an Assembly session with her newborn baby after leadership denied her request to have someone vote on her behalf. Wicks, who is on maternity leave, did not meet the Assembly’s requirements for a proxy vote because she was not “at a higher risk” for COVID-19, according to Politico

Scenes of her cradling her baby on her shoulders while speaking on the Assembly floor immediately drew outrage online, as well as calls for further action on how the U.S. treats family leave. 

Rendon, who has the final say over which members are allowed to vote by proxy, initially defended the rules in place. However, he said in a statement released Tuesday night that his “intention was never to be inconsiderate toward [Wicks], her role as a legislator, or her role as a mother.”

“I want to make a full apology to Assemblymember Wicks,” he said. “Inclusivity and electing more women in 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. I commit to doing better.”

Wicks traveled from her home in Oakland to the California Capitol in Sacramento Monday to argue in favor of a bill that would streamline the process for creating multi-unit housing. While addressing her colleagues on the Assembly floor, she said she was “in the middle of feeding my daughter when this bill came up.”

“Please, please, please pass this bill. And I’m going to go finish feeding my daughter,” Wicks said while holding her baby. 

Footage of her comments prompted an outpouring of support for Wicks. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) said in a tweet that Wicks “has proven time and again she’ll always do what’s best for her constituents.”

“But in case we need an extra testament to her character, here it is,” she said. “Strong women get things done!”
 
“California Assemblymember @buffywicks was told that having recently given birth wasn’t sufficient excuse to cast a vote remotely. So she brought her newborn daughter to the floor to weigh in on an important housing bill,” 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said in a tweet, adding a muscle flexing emoji. 
 
Tony Atkins, president pro tempore of the California state Senate, also said she hoped Wicks’s actions spark “a meaningful dialogue about America’s need for better family leave policies and deep need for affordable housing.”
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