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Baltimore's proposed diaper-changing legislation praised by dads as a 'right' for babies

A Baltimore City Council member has introduced legislation that would require more buildings across the city to install diaper-changing stations -- a proposal hailed by national groups for fathers who say clean, safe changing facilities for children should be “a right.”

Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer says that when restaurants and shops don’t have stations in restrooms, people use tabletops, counters and floors to change their babies’ dirty diapers. That’s neither hygienic nor safe, Schleifer said.

Both mothers and fathers should have access to the stations, usually fold-down tables with straps to stabilize wriggly toddlers, he says.

“Most of us have seen children being changed in unsafe and unsanitary places,” said Schleifer, father of a 15-month-old daughter, Bobbi Bella. “Having a clean, safe place to change our children is a simple solution to address a problem that all caretakers of children face.”

A majority of the council’s 15 members support the bill, including fellow parents Zeke Cohen and Shannon Sneed, whose 1-year-old daughter, Rae, has been a frequent visitor to council chambers.

Schleifer said he wants all of the city’s public buildings to be equipped with the changing stations but plans to exempt bars and clubs. He doesn’t foresee requiring businesses to retrofit their bathrooms, but to add stations during new construction and major renovations.

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The bill’s details will be shaped based on input during a public hearing and a workshop that will be scheduled in the coming weeks, he said. Schleifer said he is eager to get feedback from businesses, and is open to creating incentives to get more restaurants and retailers on board.

Melvin R. Thompson, a vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said the group is evaluating the legislation’s scope and its impact on city restaurants. A spokesman for the Greater Baltimore Committee said the group has not yet reviewed the proposal and has no comment. Other organizations that represent businesses in Baltimore did not respond to requests for comment.

A national advocate for such stations, Scotty Schrier, has been pushing for more changing sites for the last seven years.

“Everyone should be able to change a diaper when it’s needed,” said Schrier, of Tampa, Fla. He started the website DadsWhoChangeDiapers.com when his oldest son was a baby as a way to crowdsource finding changing stations accessible to fathers.

He got his start in advocacy when his oldest son “bombed his diaper” at a restaurant. Schrier went to the men’s room to make the swap — and found there was no designated place to do so.

“A dry butt shouldn’t be a luxury for babies,” Schrier said. “It should be a right.”

Changing stations are a matter of accessibility and sanitation, so it may require government intervention to ensure more are available, he added. He hopes more cities will follow Baltimore’s example.

Legislation requiring such changing facilities has been passed in a few places around the country in recent years.

In 2016, President Barack Obama signed the Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation, or BABIES Act, which covers federal buildings that are open to the public.

California passed a state law applying to public buildings and many businesses last year.

The New York City Council approved similar legislation in December and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo required the tables in state buildings in his budget for the coming year.

Schleifer said he does not yet have an estimate for how much the legislation will cost the city. Each individual station is roughly $100 to $200, plus installation costs, he said.

Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana S. Wen said she is in “strong support” of the bill because it will make public places more sanitary and keep babies safer.

“The last time that Eli came to City Hall was at my official swearing-in ceremony,” said Wen, holding her 8-month-old son at a news conference this week. “I remember this because I was holding him in one hand facing the mayor and repeating my oath to serve the residents of Baltimore. While I was doing that, Eli produced a dirty diaper. Not the best timing, but he’s a baby. I looked around City Hall and I couldn’t find a place to change him. I walked from room to room.”

Without a changing station, the alternative is paper towels on a countertop or floor. Some also resort to tables, she said.

“It’s not good for the baby. It’s not good for the parent or for the establishment,” Wen said.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young is one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

“I want to get this done quick,” Young said, adding that making government buildings kid-friendly is a priority.

Pat Jacobs, vice president of the National At-Home Dad Network, applauded the effort, especially for fathers, who are more likely than mothers to find bathrooms without baby-changing facilities.

“It’s really a good thing,” said Jacobs, of Chicago. “Where are we supposed to go?

“Anyone who has a baby knows, babies don’t wait until it’s a good time. If you’re at a restaurant and you have to run to the bathroom and there is no changing table, it is very disappointing.”

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