Associated Press
Utah Democratic Rep. Stephanie Pitcher talks to a colleague outside of a committee room at the state legislature in Salt Lake on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Pitcher is one of two lawmakers sponsoring a measure that would allow political candidates to use campaign contributions for child care. It passed out of committee Tuesday.

SALT LAKE CITY — In the middle of her campaign for Utah County Commission last year, Teri McCabe gave birth to her baby boy, Thomas.

Thomas wriggled in his mother's arms while she sat in front of a row of lawmakers on Tuesday, telling of how she and her husband worked hard to juggle her campaign while caring for a newborn.

"Since his birth, I brought him with me to campaign events several times," McCabe told the House committee. "My husband would have to rearrange his work schedule to care for Thomas so I could go to campaign events."

Though she made it work, McCabe said she would often hear from other women who wanted to run for public office but couldn't because they had no one to watch their kids.

"We're missing out on having these wonderful citizens run for office and serve their communities," McCabe said.

Tuesday, the House Government Operations Committee voted to advance a bill that would allow candidates to use campaign funds to pay for child care during their bids for office.

At the beginning of the 2019 session, Utah Reps. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, and Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City, independently opened bills to approve child care as an allowable campaign expense. Tuesday, both lawmakers told the House committee they'd join forces on the same bill, the version sponsored by Hall.

The bill, HB129, gained unanimous support from the House committee, sending it to the House floor with a favorable recommendation.

The vote came after Elizabeth Payne, a mom of four, told of how she ran into some unique challenges during her campaign to join the Murray School Board last year.

Payne said she found it odd she was able to use campaign funds to travel to Washington for a candidate training, and yet she couldn't use the same funds to pay for a baby sitter. Instead, her husband had to use vacation days so she could go.

"I believe that allowing parents to use campaign funds for child care, we will see a more diverse field of candidates, single parents, stay-at-home parents and parents of young school-age children who can speak to the issues that families are experiencing in our great state," Payne said.

Hall and Pitcher said the aim of HB129 is to help increase candidate opportunities and create more "family friendly" campaign laws. Currently, the state code is ambiguous about whether child care is an allowable campaign expense.

Pitcher noted that a recent Federal Election Commission decision determined that New York congressional candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley could use her campaign funds to pay for a baby sitter.

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"We're not the first ones to consider this issue," said Pitcher, who is also a mother of three.

Hall noted the bill is "gender-neutral" and allows mothers or fathers to use the funds for child care — but specifies the candidates can only use the funds while on the campaign trail.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, sympathized with candidates tasked with running a campaign while also caring for children.

"I was there," she said, noting she was nursing her youngest child when she first started campaigning. "I think this is long overdue."