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News / Northwest

Idaho Republicans reject ‘liberal’ policy for free menstrual products in public schools

By Ryan Suppe, Idaho Statesman
Published: March 20, 2023, 8:29pm

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho House Republicans Monday rejected a bill that would have funded free menstrual products in public school girls bathrooms. GOP House members said the proposal was “liberal,” and they objected to “woke” terms describing inaccessibility to tampons and pads.

House Bill 313, sponsored by Reps. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, and Rod Furniss, R-Rigby, would have funded no-cost menstrual product dispensers in public school girls bathrooms for sixth through 12th grade students.

The estimated price tag was $435,000 in one-time state general funds to install dispensers and $300,400 annually to stock them, according to the legislation’s fiscal note. That’s about $3.50 per student. State budget analysts predict Idaho will have a $1.4 billion tax revenue surplus at the end of the fiscal year.

“It’s not a lot of money in the state’s budget,” Furniss told the House Education Committee on Thursday. “Today is a step to preserve womanhood, to give it a chance to start right, to not be embarrassed or feel alienated or ashamed, or to feel like they need to stay home from school due to period poverty.”

The state now pays for free toilet paper, paper towels and soap in public school bathrooms, Furniss said. But in schools that don’t offer period products for lack of funding, students without their own products have to ask teachers, administrators and friends for help, the bill sponsors, advocates and others said during last week’s committee meeting. Teachers and administrators provide tampons and pads at their own cost, they said.

Leaders of the Idaho Period Project told the committee that three in four Eastern Idaho female students have missed a class or school day because of lack of access to products, a recent survey found. A nationwide study in 2021 found that 23% of students struggle to afford period products.

“Let’s solve this problem with policy,” Avrey Hendrix, founder of the Idaho Period Project, an advocacy group that solicits private donations to fund menstrual products in schools, told the committee.

The bill died in the House Monday on a tie vote, falling one vote short of a necessary majority. Thirty-five Republicans opposed it. Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, called it a “very liberal policy.”

“Why are our schools obsessed with the private parts of our children?” she said.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, objected to the phrases “period poverty” and “menstrual equity” that were used to describe inaccessibility to menstrual products.

“These are woke terms,” Ehardt said.