PROVIDENCE — A dynamic dad duo this week succeeded in passing legislation that will reserve spots in big parking lots for people transporting children younger than 3 in baby strollers.
The legislation was championed by a pair of Democratic lawmakers from Central Falls who have young kids: Senator Jonathon Acosta and Representative Joshua J. Giraldo.
“We tend to put the onus on women and moms when it comes to advocating for issues of kids or child rearing,” Acosta said Thursday. “So I saw this as an opportunity to have two dads at the front of the stage moving this legislation forward.”
Acosta, the father of 2-year-old and 10-month-old sons, said that when he grew up in Miami-Dade County in Florida, his family used “stroller permits” to park close to shopping centers and doctor offices. He said that made life easier for his mother, who had a difficult delivery with one of her children.
After Acosta moved to Central Falls and started a family, he asked where he could get a stroller permit, only to find that there was no such thing in Rhode Island. So after being elected to the Senate in November 2020, he began working on the legislation with Giraldo, who also has young children.
Acosta, who spoke to the Globe while lifting weights at a gym, said it can be difficult, even for him, to lift children from car seats to strollers in busy parking lots, and the wrangling only gets tougher when it’s raining or snowing.
So he and Giraldo introduced legislation requiring two reserved spots if a parking lot has between 101 and 500 parking spaces; three reserved spots if a parking lot has 501 to 1,000 parking spaces; and one additional space for every 500 parking spaces over 1,000 spaces. The law provides exceptions for single-family, duplex, townhouse or multifamily homes and industrial-zoned properties. And it gives businesses two years to comply with the new requirements.
“What better way to communicate to the public that we want to be supportive of young families – to do a simple thing to make life easier,” Acosta said.
But some legislators spoke out against the bill.
“I just don’t think government is the answer to every inconvenience,” House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi, a Block Island Republican, said during the House vote. “We could be here forever dealing with things that maybe we think should be different. But regulating how people have parking spots for anything other than disability parking, I just think this is government overreach. It’s not our business. Let people figure it out.”
The House ended up passing the legislation by a vote of 49 to 14 on Wednesday.
Afterward, former House Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry, a North Smithfield Republican, mocked the passage of the bill on Twitter. “Rest assured citizens,” he tweeted. “As gas prices hover at $5 a gallon, inflation roars, baby formula is still hard to find, and the economy teeters on recession, the Rhode Island General Assembly is focused on the issues that matter.”
Acosta said he found the Republican opposition surprising because Miami-Dade County provides stroller permits in “a deeply red state,” and he said, “We didn’t have a single business come out against it.”
The Senate passed the legislation on June 7 by a vote of 30 to 5, and it now goes to Governor Daniel J. McKee’s desk to be signed into law.
Giraldo said parking lots can be hectic places that create dangers for young children.
“This bill will ease the stress parents and guardians face when bringing their children to the store in a stroller, but most importantly, it will help protect our kids from the terrible possible tragedies that can occur in a busy parking lot,” he said.
The legislation is passing just in time for Giraldo, who has a 3-year-old and a 1-1/2-year-old, and another child due next Friday.
“When my wife and I go to the store now, we have man-to-man coverage, but when we have a third one, we will have to go to zone defense,” Giraldo said Thursday. “That’s a little more difficult. It’s another hand to hold while carrying groceries or pushing a stroller. So this is a very simple, small way for us to make those very large parking lots a little bit safer.”