New bill introduced after nursing mom’s airport experience went viral

The proposed legislation would amend the BABES Act.

ByYi-Jin Yu via via logo
August 10, 2022, 3:04 PM

A new bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives three months after a nursing mom had ice packs intended to keep breast milk cold nearly confiscated by airport security.

The proposed legislation would amend the Bottles and Breastfeeding Equipment Screening Enhancement (BABES) Act to protect parents and caregivers by requiring the Transportation Security Administration to "clarify and regularly update guidance on handling breast milk, baby formula, and other related nutrition products" and the federal agency would have to develop and update the guidelines with direction from maternal health groups, according to a press release from California Rep. Katie Porter, who is sponsoring the bill.

The BABES Act was first signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 16, 2016, and required TSA to notify airlines and security staff of the agency's directives on traveling with baby formula, breast milk and juice on planes.

"TSA screening checkpoints should not pose a risk to Americans who just want to keep their babies healthy and fed," Porter said in a statement. "I'm proud to introduce this bipartisan bill that will make it easier for parents with young kids to travel safely."

Florida Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, a co-sponsor of the bill, added in another statement, "It should not be difficult for traveling mothers to breastfeed or carry breast milk through TSA checkpoints. We can -- and should -- make motherhood easier through sensible measures like the BABES Enhancement Act."

The pending expansion of the BABES Act was spurred by an incident involving Emily Calandrelli, the host of Netflix's "Emily's Wonder Lab" and a mom of two, who shared the challenges she experienced while flying for work in a now-viral Twitter thread from May. She had been trying to go through airport security when she said male TSA agents told her she couldn't travel with ice packs that she had intended to use to preserve breast milk despite guidance listed on the TSA website.

Calandrelli told "Good Morning America" shortly after the incident that she had found the entire ordeal "embarrassing" and felt the agents had treated her like a "petulant child."

Calandrelli's story drew social media outrage and news coverage, prompting the TSA to release a statement on May 13 saying, in part, that the agency was "committed to ensuring that every traveler is treated respectfully and courteously at the checkpoint" and that it would "continue to engage with advocacy and community-based organizations to enhance our screening protocols" and "re-double our training to ensure our screening procedures are being consistently applied."

After introducing the proposed bill amendment, Porter re-shared Calandrelli's tweets and added in her own message, "Earlier this summer, my constituent Emily called out @TSA for failing parents traveling with breast milk. We worked together to draft bipartisan, bicameral legislation to better protect parents like her who just want to keep their babies fed. I proudly introduced our bill today."

Calandrelli told "GMA" in a new statement that the proposed legislation she helped co-write felt like a "full circle moment."

"I had a unique perspective because I had thousands of moms and parents reach out to me to detail their own issues they experienced with TSA while traveling with young kids and/or breastmilk and formula," Calandrelli wrote in an emailed statement. "From those comments I was able to do a short analysis of what the most common issues were so that we could figure out what problems actually need to be addressed."

"I'm excited that this bill will be helping all of those parents and families who reached out to me," she continued. "Because of Representative Porter (and all of the other representatives who are supporting this bill), families will be able to travel [through] security a bit faster and with fewer issues -- and I think we can all get excited about that!"

A similar version of the proposed House bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate as well, with Sens. Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois; Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii; and Steve Daines, of Montana, sponsoring it.

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