HARTFORD — A handful of legislators, including several women, voted against a bill that would provide access to free feminine hygiene products in all middle and high school bathrooms, calling the move an “unfunded mandate” and raising concerns about the cost of the provision.
“I spoke to my superintendents and they said students all have access in the nurse’s office whenever they need to get them,” said state Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditrea, R-Seymour, prior to to voting against the bill. “He also did a study and said for every 1,000 students needing these products, the cost would be approximately $45,000 to the school system.”
Despite the opposition, the bill will head to the Senate for a vote, passing the legislature’s Public Health Committee 18-7. Dozens of high school students traveled to the state capital last week to testify in support of the bill, which they said would help fight period poverty in the state. That is, provide access to expensive feminine hygiene products to help young people, especially girls, cut down on missed school as a result of a natural bodily function.
They said requiring students to visit the nurse’s office when they’re in need of a tampon or pad creates a stigma and implies that periods are an “illness.”
Still, not all legislators are convinced it should be up to the state’s governing body to impose such a requirement on school districts. Instead, they’d rather leave it up to schools and school districts to determine when, where and how to make feminine hygiene products available.
“I do feel this is something that could be handled through the state department of education and if this is as big of a concern as the advocates say it is, why couldn’t we just ask our board of education to look at this and let us know how much it could cost,” said state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, adding she does not feel the bill is clear on what is required of schools. “I think this bill needs a lot more work in its language and its intent.”
State Rep. Kathy Kennedy, R-Milford, said that while she agrees the bill and its concept is important, schools in her district are already providing the products in some way, and she is concerned a mandate would not have the effect that is intended.
“Until we have more information, I will be a no,” she said.
State Rep. Lezlye Zupkus, R-Prospect, also voted against the bill. She said she spoke to all of the schools in her district and none said there was a problem with students accessing products.
“In the town where I live in Prospect, there is a 30 percent poverty rate and they’ve looked into this and there has never been a problem with people that cannot afford these products coming in,” Zupkus said. “It’s an unfunded mandate on our schools and I believe it should be up to the Board of Eds. If this is such a concern they should be looking into it and figuring out how to handle it in their schools.”
Not all Republicans opposed the bill though. State. Rep. William Petit, R-Plainville, voted in favor of the bill, but raised similar concerns to those of his colleagues.
“The intent is very good,” he said.
Public Health Committee co-chair Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, who last week applauded those who testified for bringing the issue of period poverty to her attention, said she understands the concerns of her colleagues but believes the bill provides some leeway to districts and schools to determine the most appropriate way to make products available in bathrooms.
“I’m realistic about the fact that this would cost money,”she said. “But for me it’s a bigger cost when we give the message to young women in particular that for somehow their biological needs should not be taken care of when we take care of other biological needs.”