Measure to authorize child care as a candidate campaign expense fails in House subcommittee

A measure to make it easier for Tennesseans with young children to run for public office died Wednesday, March 13 in a House subcommittee.

House Bill 0007, sponsored by Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, District 53, would have authorized a candidate to spend campaign donations on child care when a babysitter is needed as a direct result of the campaign, such as neighborhood meetings or rallies.

Rep. Powell said the measure would update Tennessee campaign finance laws to match Federal Election Commission rules and would enable “talented people” who’d like to serve their communities but worry about the personal expense of child care.

“We might have a lot of talented people that say, ‘I’d really like to run for office, but I just can’t—I might have to attend a campaign activity and I can’t leave my daughter, son, grandchild at home,'” Powell said. “This would allow them to do that. I think that we’d have more people running for office who’d be strong candidates if we put this into law.”

Rep. John Crawford, R-Kingsport, District 1, took issue with the assertion that parents limited by the cost of child care would be “better candidates.”

“The statement you just made there: that it’d give us better candidates—if they’re not running for office because they can’t find child care, how are they going to do the job down here?” Crawford said. “Because you know as well as anybody, it’s just run, run, run and that kind of stuff soI don’t see how we’d be bettering the quality of candidates.”

Cost of child care
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average cost for full-time childcare can range anywhere from $4,000 to $22,600 per year—a cost that creates a significant financial burden for many families.

A study from Care.com says the high cost of child care also has other consequences: 63 percent of parents say the cost of child care impacted their career decisions.

During the hearing, Rep. Powell suggested smart people with young children may be choosing not to serve because of this barrier.

Ultimately, if more parents with young children served in elected office, local and state priorities on issues ranging from health care and education to public safety and child care could change.

The House Elections & Campaign Finance Subcommittee is compromised of five men. You can watch the 14-minute debate here.

  • Crawford, who spoke against the bill, has an adult child.
  • Rep. Rick Tillis, R-Lewisberg, District 92, who spoke against the bill, does not appear to have children based on his legislative website.
  • Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, District 34, does not appear to have children based on his legislative website.
  • Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, District 29, spoke in favor of the bill.