California legislators approve free menstrual products in public schools
California public schools and colleges would have to stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under legislation sent Thursday to Gov. Gavin Newsom as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons and other items.
The bill by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) builds on her 2017 law requiring low-income schools in disadvantaged areas to provide students with free menstrual products.
Several other states are considering or have required free menstrual products in public schools, according to advocacy group Women’s Voices for the Earth. Purdue University in Indiana decided last year to offer free feminine hygiene products in campus bathrooms.
Garcia also had prompted California to follow the lead of at least 10 states by exempting menstrual products from sales taxes, which she said cost women a collective $20 million a year as other health items like erectile dysfunction medication were exempt.
The advocacy group says more than half the states still tax menstrual products as a “luxury” item. Worldwide, many countries have eliminated such taxes, including Britain, Australia, Canada and India.
The new California legislation expands the 2017 law to grades 6 to 12, community colleges and the California State University and University of California systems, starting in the 2022-23 school year. It encourages private schools and colleges to follow suit.
If the government were to require that only men or only women had to pay a tax of several hundred dollars a year solely because of their sex, that would be an unconstitutional denial of equal protection under the 14th Amendment.
There were no registered opponents and few opposition votes.
“Often periods arrive at inconvenient times,” Garcia said in a statement. “They can surprise us during an important midterm, while playing with our children at a park, sitting in a lobby waiting to interview for a job, shopping at the grocery store, or even standing on the Assembly floor presenting an important piece of legislation.”
Convenient access, she said, “would alleviate the anxiety of trying to find a product when out in public.”
She said her measure was inspired by Scotland, which last year declared access to menstrual products to be a human right and required public places to provide them free of charge.
Ideally, Garcia said, menstrual products would be as common in restrooms as toilet paper and paper towels.
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