SALEM — Oregon students could access free feminine hygiene products at school under a proposal from their peers.
A group of students from South Eugene High School brought the idea to state Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene.
Fahey is chief sponsor of House Bill 3020, which would require public schools with students in grades 7 to 12 to make free menstrual products available in at least half of the school's bathrooms.
Fahey said low-income students may not have consistent access to the products they need. While the products might be available at the nurse's office or an administrator's office, students may not feel comfortable approaching adults at school to ask for them.
"I was a middle school girl some years ago, and I can tell you that there is probably no chance I would have gone to an adult to ask for menstrual products if I had needed them at that point in my life," Fahey said in testimony before the House Education Committee on Monday.
The committee moved the bill to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means on Monday, though some members expressed concerns about an "unfunded mandate" for schools to provide the products.
The bill could affect about 529 schools in the state, but budget analysts for the Legislature say the cost isn't clear. Fahey said she warned the students that although she loved the bill, a primary objection the proposal could face was the cost to schools
Committee members Rep. Jeff Reardon, D-Aloha, and Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, initially voted against the proposal over the cost issue. The Legislature is trying to raise more money for the state's beleaguered public school system.
"I'm gonna be a 'no' on this, and I hate myself for it, but I just can't do an unfunded mandate when we're already not supporting our schools," Reardon said.
After a tie vote, though, both Reardon and Helt changed their votes to "yes" to allow the proposal to advance.
Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, said that perhaps schools could host fundraisers to offset the cost.
Portland Public Schools started providing free feminine hygiene products in girls' and unisex restrooms in high schools this year, after a pilot project at Grant High School. Supporters say menstrual products like tampons and pads are necessary to maintain hygiene.
"These are not luxury items or something a young woman can decline to use," said Trish Garner, state public policy chair for the American Association of University Women of Oregon, in written testimony in support of the bill. "Just as toilet paper and paper towels are seen as necessities, so are menstrual products."
The legislation is one part of increasing efforts by governments around the world to reduce the stigma around periods and expand access to feminine hygiene products in public places and to make them more affordable.
Oregon lawmakers are also considering House Bill 2515, which would provide free feminine hygiene products in the state's jails, prisons and youth detention facilities.
"While menstruation is a normal bodily function, many girls and women feel shame and embarrassment about it," Garner wrote. "The fact that menstrual products aren't available in our schools underscores the message that this natural function needs to be hidden. There is a social stigma attached to menstruation that clearly continues."
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