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Bill to put free period products in Colorado schools advances through House committee

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Sara Wilson

(Colorado Newsline) A Colorado bill would require schools to provide free pads and tampons in middle and high school bathrooms, an effort supporters say would make it easier and more comfortable for menstruating people to take care of their health needs and participate in their education.

“By providing free period products in all bathrooms, we as Colorado will send a powerful message that in our state, we’re fully committed to ensuring that our schools are truly inclusive and supportive environments. Period products should not be a luxury. They’re absolutely a necessity,” bill sponsor Rep. Jenny Willford, a Northglenn Democrat, told the House Education Committee on Thursday.

The committee passed the bill on a party-line 7-4 vote, with Democrats in favor of it.

“You can’t schedule a visit from Aunt Flow. You can’t turn it off or turn it on, and we have an opportunity today to end the perpetual cycle of inequity that affects female students, hindering their ability to fully engage in their studies and pursue their dreams,” Willford said.

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© flickrcc - Alan Levine

House Bill 24-1164 would require public schools to provide free period products in their bathrooms — including girls and gender-neutral bathrooms — by 2028 and would expand eligibility for the state’s menstrual hygiene products accessibility grant program. If passed, the bill would infuse $400,000 into the grant program, which would prioritize rural schools and schools where at least half of the students get free or reduced lunch.

The bill is sponsored in the House by Willford and Rep. Brianna Titone, an Arvada Democrat. Its Senate sponsors are Sen. Faith Winter of Westminster and Sen. Janet Buckner of Aurora. All the sponsors are Democrats. Titone sponsored the 2021 legislation that created the menstrual product grant program.

Bill sponsors said that schools already pay for and provide bathroom products like toilet paper, paper towels and soap for students, and that pads and tampons are equally necessary. Titone estimated an annual cost of about $3.50 per year per student for those products.

“What is the cost of dignity to students? The cost of students feeling like they don’t have to make a trip to the special teacher or nurse’s office? What is the cost of saving the student the embarrassment of staining their clothes and leaving school early or missing the entire day because it’s that time of the month?” Titone said.

19 states require period products in schools

Besides making it simpler for a student to get a pad or tampon the moment they need one, in-bathroom period products would also alleviate period poverty — when someone doesn’t have period products because they cannot afford them. A 2022 study from Justice Necessary found that 47% of menstruating people in Colorado have experienced period poverty, and 12% reported missing school because of their period.

Students shared testimony of times when they did not have access to period products at school, forced to create a makeshift solution with toilet paper, pull a trusted teacher aside during class or head to the nurse’s office across campus.

“Although period products were available in our nurse’s office, it was a frustrating process where students compromised their dignity and comfort to alleviate a basic bodily function. Students may be embarrassed to talk to an adult about their period or need for products, which became a barrier for many students in accessing them,” said Aubrey Iverson, a high school student from Thornton, at the hearing.

Nineteen states require public schools to have period products in schools, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies. Eight of those states have a funding mechanism in place.

Three organizations are registered in opposition to the bill: the Colorado Association of School Executives, Pikes Peak Area School District Alliance and the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance. They said the bill amounts to an unfunded mandate and would put another financial burden on underfunded schools already struggling to hire and retain teachers. Schools already supply period products, opponents argued, though in most cases they are only in the nurse’s or administrative office, or a teacher pays for and keeps them in their classroom.

Additionally, there are concerns that rural districts could face barriers to applying for grant money because they have fewer staff members.

That was a concern of Democratic Reps. Matthew Martinez and Meghan Lukens, who wanted more consideration for how rural schools could access grant money and where schools could keep the products on campus. They both voted in favor of the bill.

The financial aspect of the bill will likely be a primary debate as it moves forward in the Legislature. Its next stop is the House Appropriations Committee.

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