N.H. passes law requiring free tampons and pads in public schools

  • Caroline Dillon, 18, of Rochester, N.H., testifies in Feb. 2019 in favor of SB 142, a bill that would require public high schools and middle schools to provide free feminine hygiene products in bathrooms. The bill was signed into law on July 17, 2019. In attendence at the hearing are Rep. Polly Campion, D-Etna, second from left, and Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, center. (Concord Monitor - Leah Willingham)

Concord Monitor
Published: 7/17/2019 1:46:01 PM
Modified: 7/17/2019 10:03:31 PM

CONCORD — Caroline Dillon could tell she was making people uncomfortable.

The 18-year-old knew it when she saw lawmakers, most of them men, dance around using words like “menstruation,” “tampon” or “feminine hygiene products” when having conversations with her.

“They would say ‘the thing’ or just try to avoid saying it all together,” said Dillon, who was pioneering legislation to require schools to provide tampons and pads in public school bathrooms.

But those difficult conversations ended up being worth it — Senate Bill 142 was signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu on Wednesday morning.

Starting next year, school districts will be responsible for providing feminine hygiene products in women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms in high schools and middle schools.

“This legislation is about equality and dignity,” Sununu said Wednesday. “SB 142 will help ensure young women in New Hampshire public schools will have the freedom to learn without disruption — and free of shame, or fear of stigma.”

The idea for SB 142 started after Dillon did a project in a U.S. history class at Rochester High School about women’s inequality and learned about “period poverty,” where people are forced to miss work or school because they can’t afford feminine hygiene products.

“It was sad to think about,” Dillon said. “Girls in middle and high school would never dream of telling somebody that they have to miss school or use socks because they can’t pay for pads.”

She approached Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, about requiring schools to provide feminine hygiene products in schools. Hennessey then decided to sponsor a bill.

The state senator said on Wednesday that she was “very excited” that Sununu had signed the bill into law.

“It should make a very big difference in students’ productivity as well as their attendance in school,” she said.

If someone doesn’t have access to products, it can have a huge impact on her life, Hennessey said during a hearing with the Senate’s Education and Workforce Development Committee in February. She said the average woman menstruates 2,535 days during her lifetime, equivalent to seven years.

“That’s seven years of worrying, for some, about having appropriate personal hygiene products and being able to afford them, not to mention pain and discomfort,” she said at the time.

Though many schools have had tampons and pads available in nurses’ offices, that location can mean students in need of the products face a stigma by waiting in line — sometimes alongside male classmates — and acknowledge that they can’t afford the products in order to obtain them from school officials, Hennessey said Wednesday.

Because many schools already make these products available through the school nurse, and student and parent-teacher organizations have begun collecting donations for the effort, Hennessey said she didn’t expect it would carry a cost.

But that’s not really the point, she said.

“We don’t ask who’s going to pay for the toilet paper,” she said. Tampons and pads are “at least as necessary.”

State Rep. Polly Campion, D-Etna, who co-sponsored the bill, said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that “providing access to free menstrual care products in public middle and high school bathrooms is not idealistic, it’s a basic, essential measure for equality and is long overdue.”

Both Hennessey and Campion lauded Dillon for bringing the issue to their attention.

“I am proud of the compelling advocacy devoted to this legislation, especially that of high schooler Caroline Dillon, of Rochester, who saw firsthand the impact of period poverty in her own New Hampshire school,” Campion said in her statement.

Dillon said she learned a lot about the impact students can make in state government.

“I think the thing that stuck out to me the most is that you can make an impact and actually do something without being 18, without running for office,” she said. “You can make your voice heard, and you can participate in the process.”

Similar legislation has passed in states like New York and California.

Valley News Staff Writer Nora Doyle-Burr contributed to this report.

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