When Elizabeth Payne campaigned for the Murray School Board last year, she was able to use campaign donations to travel to Washington, D.C. for a candidate training.
Payne won her race, but she was not able to use her campaign account to pay for a babysitter to watch her four children while she was out of town.
“As a result, my husband took some of his few vacation days to allow me to attend that training,” Payne said.
That could change for future re-election campaigns under a bipartisan bill given first approval by a House committee Tuesday.
Currently, Utah code is “silent” on whether candidates can use campaign funds for child care, said sponsor Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City. His bill would make it “specifically clear” that they are allowed to do so.
No one should be “discouraged from running for office simply because they have child care responsibilities,” he said.
Hall, who has children, and Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored identical legislation on the issue. The House Government Operations Committee unanimously approved Hall’s bill Tuesday afternoon.
Pitcher, a freshman lawmaker with three young children ages 8 and under, said the legislation would “remove a structural barrier” for candidates.
“I could have certainly benefited from this bill, or could do so moving forward,” she said.
The bill would only apply to child care for campaign-related events. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, suggested possibly expanding the measure to include child care during official events and duties as well.
“I can use my campaign funds for a lot of items related to my legislative work” including travel, conferences and meetings, she said, but even under Hall’s bill, a parent could not pay for child care during such travel and events.
The discussion comes as a record number of women were elected to office last year, both in Utah and nationally.
In 2018, the Federal Election Commission gave the OK for federal candidates to use campaign funds to pay for babysitters and other child care.
But states are split on the issue. The Louisiana Ethics Board ruled in November that legislative candidate Morgan Lamandre could not use her campaign account to pay for babysitters for her two young children while she attended fundraisers and other campaign events.