By Allison Allsop of the LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana House Committee on Education has advanced a bill to require schools to provide free and easy-to-access menstrual products, primarily in school bathrooms.
Kendra Reed, a Junior League volunteer, said, “We don’t want girls to miss class time because they don’t have a five-cent pad.”
The bill, House Bill 195, was created by Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman, D-New Orleans, and advanced last week without objection.
Truancy is a big issue among girls facing so-called “period poverty.” Many do not attend school due to not being able to access menstrual supplies.
While some schools already provide these products in the nurse’s office or the main office, many schools still do not. A trip to one of those offices can take up class time. By requiring schools to offer the products in places like bathrooms, this bill would help those who cannot afford the products and cut back on missed class time.
As Belinda Davis, a member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and a professor at LSU, put it, “I think that this legislation will do a really good job of forcing school districts to have a complete plan for how they’re addressing this issue.”
The cost of the requirements would fall on local schools and school districts. The fiscal note for the bill said the costs might vary school to school, depending on whether a school currently has any kind of distribution method.
Dispensers for the bathrooms cost about $300. The cost of the menstrual products will vary by school depending on the number of dispensers. The fiscal note said the price for 500 tampons and 250 pads would be $120.
One student, Ananya Bhatia, spoke before the committee to show her support for the bill. She is a high school junior at Caddo Magnet in Shreveport.
“I’m coming to you as a student of Louisiana, as a face for the girls calling on their state to care for their most basic needs,” Bhatia said. “You have the power to end this vicious cycle… We can no longer take on a burden that you as our leaders have the solution to right in front of you today.”
The issue of period poverty is widespread across the United States. It is defined as the inability to afford or access basic menstrual products such as tampons, pads, or menstrual cups. According to a survey by PERIOD and Thinx, an underwear company, 1 in 4 students–particularly from lower-income or rural areas–will suffer from period poverty.
Eleven states already have bills requiring schools to provide menstrual products, and at least 20 states have eliminated the tax on menstrual products. These laws help women across the states receive better, more affordable access.
The Louisiana Legislature voted in 2021 to eliminate a tax on menstrual products, called the “pink tax,” effective in June 2022. That bill also was authored by Freeman.
Rep. Jason Hughes, one of the co-authors of the latest bill, said: “And at the end of the day, just like toilet paper, and paper towels and soap are provided in the restrooms for me as a man, we need to ensure that all of the necessary tools for our young girls are provided. And at the end of the day, this is just the right thing to do, Members.”
The bill is scheduled for House floor debate on May 5. If it passes in both chambers and is signed by the governor, it will be enacted for the 2023-2024 school year.