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Politics & Government

Legislation in Madison Targets Intoxicated Co-Sleepers

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Marina Thompson, Flickr
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The topic of whether or not to sleep with your baby is a divisive one.  It was the subject of a hearing in Madison on Wednesday. Legislators are considering a bill to criminalize certain cases of co-sleeping if the adult is impaired and harms the child. Most people who testified believe the bill sends the wrong message.

GOP Representative Samantha Kerkman says she’s not interested in weighing in on whether co-sleeping is a good or bad idea. But she does want to file felony charges against adults who sleep next to a baby while under the influence and smother the child. Kerkman says what fuels her is the death of a little boy in Kenosha. She says Joey died while sleeping in a bed with his intoxicated dad.

“Different choices could have been made that night, and I’m doing this bill for the other little babies out there like this. I want people to just make better choices. That night he could have put the baby into a bassinet or a crib or even on the floor and this incident would have been avoided,” Kerkman says. 

Kerkman’s legislation would also require health care practitioners to provide women in their third trimester with information about the dangers of co-sleeping while under the influence. She says her ultimate goal is to educate parents and stop unsafe sleeping conditions before they happen.

Not everyone believes Kerkman is going about achieving her goal in the right way. Several health care organizations spoke out against the bill. Mark Grapentine represents the Wisconsin Medical Society. He says it does not support the education mandate and believes the potential of criminal charges against caretakers could backfire.

“You incentivize not seeking medical attention for fear of being arrested or for fear of going to jail. And if something happens where a tragedy occurs and you wake up, and your infant is injured the last thing you should be worried about is should I call emergency services or not,” Grapentine says.

Grapentine says besides, there’s no evidence that such a law would serve as a deterrent. He says the legislation might also send the message that co-sleeping if not under the influence is okay, and he says that’s just not so.

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