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Utah joins states considering campaign money for child care

ormer Utah County Commission candidate Teri McCabe feds her child during a confetti meeting at the Utah Legislature in Salt Lake City, on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019 McCabe testified in favor of a bill that would allow candidates in Utah to use campaign funds for child care. She gave birth to her now 6-month-old son Thomas midway through her campaign last year. (AP Photo/Lindsay Whitehurst)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — During a record-setting year for women running for office, candidates around the country raised the question of whether campaign funds can pay for child care for working parents.

While federal candidates can use it, states remain divided. In Utah on Tuesday, a panel of lawmakers approved a bipartisan bill that would explicitly allow it.

In the state with the nation’s highest birth rate, Republican sponsor Craig Hall said no one should be eliminated from running for office because they’re worrying about how to care for their children.

Democrat Stephanie Pitcher said child care is often expensive and more difficult to secure for low-income candidates.

The measure “really eliminates barriers to running for office, especially for parents of young children,” she said.

Election boards in at least six states, ranging from Alabama to Wisconsin, have allowed it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A number of others haven’t, including Connecticut, Iowa and Louisiana, though the state’s Democratic governor has disagreed with that decision.

Opponents have said that child care could be considered a personal use of campaign dollars, and allowing it could lead to abuse.

Four other states, including Iowa, are also considering legislation addressing the issue this year, the state legislatures group said.

The Federal Election Commission decided in May 2018 that candidates could use campaign money for child care. In Utah, a Democrat running for Congress used contributions to pay for care of her young son.

Shireen Ghorbani said she had to take leave from her job at the University of Utah during the final few months of her 2018 campaign, so the nearly $3,000 from campaign coffers was essential to her running against Republican incumbent Rep. Chris Stewart, who eventually won.

“It was really interesting what a warm reception we got from donors when we explained it,” she said. People would reach out and ask what a day or a week cost at day care for her then-3-year-old, and make out a check for that amount.

The new proposals in Utah would cover candidates running in state, county and city elections. It comes after women made historic gains at the statehouse, winning 25 of the 104 seats.

Teri McCabe said she gave birth to a baby boy, Thomas, in the middle of her campaign for Utah County Commission. Though she was able to juggle her campaign and child care with her husband’s help, she would often hear from other women who couldn’t.

“We’re missing out on having these wonderful citizens run for office and serve their community,” she said.

The measure is gender-neutral, so male candidates could take advantage of it as well.

Democratic Rep. Patrice Arent said she was nursing her youngest child during her first campaign, and she’s glad to know that future candidates could get some relief. “I think this is long overdue,” she said.