California gets a lot of flak for being a "nanny state," but two bills pending in Sacramento would also make this a "manny state."
The bills by state Sens. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) would greatly increase the number of diaper changing tables in men's restrooms. State law doesn't require changing stations in any bathrooms, men's or women's. But many establishments (thankfully) install fold-down tables or allocate a stretch of flat counter space for diaper changing for the convenience of parents. These amenities are more common in ladies' rooms, although a lot of businesses are also putting them in men's restrooms because — shocker — dads change diapers too.
Wolk's proposal, Senate Bill 1358, would require that large public venues such as movie theaters, shopping centers, retail stores and restaurants install changing tables in both women's and men's bathrooms. Lara's Senate Bill 1350 says that if a business is building a new bathroom or renovating a bathroom and plans to install a changing table, then diapering stations must be accessible to men and women. That is, if you put one in the ladies' room, you also have to put one in the men's room.
I've changed quite a few diapers on car seats or in the car trunk, on benches or on a blanket on the ground, so I appreciate the sentiment in Wolk's and Lara's bills. Any business that serves families and has a public bathroom larger than a closet should really have a changing table. They're not that expensive for a business — around $200 for the cheapest model online — and they're a major help for parents. And by parents, I mean moms and dads.
I conducted an informal survey of dads and found that changing tables are still pretty rare in men's rooms. One colleague said they were uncommon enough that he takes notice when there is one. As a frequent user of women's bathrooms and the parent of a child still in diapers, I'd say changing tables are a common sight in ladies' facilities, and they are standard in places that cater to families, like most malls and any restaurant that has a kids' menu.
Why the diapering disparity? Pity the poor dad who takes his baby out for a day on the town and can't find a decent place to change the kid's diaper. And what about gay couples who are raising kids? Without changing tables, dads have to get creative, trying to change a wiggly baby on their lap or on the sink counter.
There are a lot of good reasons why businesses should embrace the modern, do-it-all dads and give them changing tables. But does that mean California should mandate diapering stations? No. Ultimately a changing table is a convenience, not a public necessity like a toilet or a sink, and legislators should be wary of laws that begin with good intentions but end in more regulatory burdens on businesses.