The flaws in a California Assembly rule limiting who can vote remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic came to light Monday when a member had no choice but to bring her newborn to the floor in order to vote.
A spokesperson for California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, who represents several cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, said Assembly leadership denied her request to vote by proxy on Monday “on the grounds that maternity leave is not eligible for proxy voting.”
That’s according to a rule the chamber adopted Aug. 3 allowing members “at a higher risk from the COVID-19 virus” to have someone else vote on her behalf. A postpartum mother bringing a newborn to the state Capitol, where a senator just tested positive for the coronavirus, apparently did not qualify as high-risk.
Wicks, who gave birth in late July, hasn’t made any public comments about the situation, and her office did not immediately return a request for her thoughts on the Assembly’s policy. But she wasn’t quiet about her circumstances during Monday’s vote.
“Colleagues, it’s good to see you all,” Wicks said at the podium, rocking her newborn, Elly, in her arms. “I was actually in the middle of feeding my daughter when this bill came up, and I ran down on the floor today because I strongly believe we need to pass this bill,” she said of legislation aimed at creating multi-unit housing, which ultimately did not pass.
“We are 3.5 million homes shy of where we need to be right now in this state,” she said, pausing to comfort her crying daughter, “and Elly agrees.”
She concluded: “So please, please, please pass this bill, and I’m going to go finish feeding my daughter.”
Wicks’ colleagues in the upper chamber aren’t bound by such strict rules. That same day, the Senate Republicans voted remotely after GOP Sen. Brian Jones tested positive for the coronavirus.
Like so much about COVID-19, not much is known for sure about its risks for infants and postpartum mothers. While infected children typically don’t become as sick as adults do with the disease, those who are hospitalized are admitted to the intensive care unit at the same rate as adults. Children under 2 are more likely than older children to develop severe illness from COVID-19, likely because of their immature immune systems and smaller airways.
A study published in Sweden in July found that pregnant or immediately postpartum women with COVID-19 were nearly six times more likely to be admitted to the ICU than female COVID-19 patients without those conditions.