By Geof Koss
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) was an attorney in private practice in 1995 when her insurance company forced her to leave the hospital one day after giving birth to her daughter.
Incensed, she convinced the state Legislature to pass one of the nation’s first laws mandating 48-hour hospital stays for new mothers, a principle that has since been enshrined in federal law.
Klobuchar, 49, has applied both lessons since becoming Minnesota’s first elected female Senator in 2006, when she arrived in Washington, D.C., as a relative political novice.
“I came out in my Saturn with my daughter in the back seat and the college dishes and the shower curtain from 1985,” she recalled, laughing. But what she may have lacked in inside-the-Beltway knowledge, she made up for with real-world expertise.
“I think I brought to the Senate some practicality in dealing with everyday issues,” she said. At a child-safety hearing, “I’ll be the only one in the committee room who knows what’s it like to have your baby in the car seat and it suddenly falls over in the back seat.”
In addition to tending to Minnesota-specific matters, Klobuchar has used her diverse committee assignments — which include EPW, Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Commerce, Science and Transportation and Judiciary — to press broader consumer protection reforms.
Last year, she worked with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) to negotiate landmark legislation banning lead in children’s toys. The law includes product-labeling provisions Klobuchar authored making it easier for parents to identify recalled items.
In 2007, then-President George W. Bush signed legislation boosting pool-safety standards that Klobuchar wrote after a 6-year-old Minnesota girl named Abigail Taylor was seriously injured by a pool drain.
Her family called Klobuchar’s cell phone every week “believing that Washington could do something about this, and in the end, they were right,” she said. Taylor later died of her injuries.
As chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Children’s Health, Klobuchar is planning to investigate a host of issues affecting children, including the environmental connections to asthma and autism.
The panel also has jurisdiction over legislation introduced last month by Klobuchar and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) that would impose a new health standard for formaldehyde, a chemical used in wood products that can be toxic at elevated levels.
Both the Subcommittee on Children’s Health and her seat on the Agriculture panel also mesh nicely with her interest in fighting childhood obesity. “Kids’ waistlines are getting wider and their recesses are getting shorter. They don’t have any places to walk. ... There just hasn’t been enough focus on exercise as well as nutrition,” she said.
Klobuchar also has been outspoken on alternative energy and agriculture issues affecting Minnesota. But regardless of the issue, she said her primary focus in legislating is keeping policies safe and affordable for families, which stems from her experience in the hospital after giving birth.
“Seeing how things can go wrong for families and they feel so helpless, which I felt when I was kicked out of the hospital, has really been a guiding light for me in the work that I’ve done,” she said.