Legislation that would require Utah public schools to stock free menstrual hygiene products in female or unisex restrooms moved a step closer to approval Tuesday with a unanimous vote of support by the Utah Legislature’s House Education Committee.

HB162, sponsored by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, would require period products to be provided in female or unisex restrooms in all elementary, middle and high schools or other school facilities that students use.

Nearly seven of 10 girls in the United States miss school due to a lack of access to period products, Lisonbee said.

“When young girls do not have access to period products, they miss school. They suffer health risks from using unsanitary methods to control their periods. They may have lower confidence. They may feel shame and embarrassment, and sometimes they even withdraw from critical school programs,” she said.

HB162 will enact “a reliable solution” to help Utah students manage their periods, Lisonbee said.

By combining a legislative appropriation and funds from private donors, the bill would require dispensers to be installed in school restrooms statewide that will be stocked with products available free of charge to students.

Lisonbee said the solution “respects our most vulnerable and disadvantaged students’ privacy and feelings by offering these products in school restrooms rather than in classrooms or the main office, primarily,” she said.

The legislation is the result of a group effort over several years by community advocates, legislative leaders and community members who have “advocated for a policy that would address period poverty in Utah,” she said.

Two of the partners include the Utah’s Period Project and the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation, which is contributing $2 million to purchase dispensers.

Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, said during her years as a licensed school librarian, she had two drawers of supplies in the library, one with food and the other menstrual hygiene products, what she called “basic essentials our students need to be present and learning.”

When a student is in need of a period product “she is not fully engaged in school. She’s not learning, she’s not thriving. There’s times, as we’ve been talking about here today, she’s embarrassed,” Matthews said.

Matthews said many of Utah’s public school teachers, three-quarters of whom are female, spend money from their own pockets to keep a supply of period products in their classrooms.

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“Every single female in the school can relate, and we want our students to have that dignity, equity and to be able to focus on school,” she said.

Megan Reid, a 17-year-old student who is a senior at Roots Charter High School, said having period products available at school “will help girls feel like they aren’t alone.

“People end up staying home missing assignments and missing school days because of this,” she said. “Knowing that there will be period products in the school and we won’t be marked absent will make me and other girls who have missed because of this so happy.”

According to the bill’s fiscal note, providing the products could cost the Utah State Board of Education nearly $2.4 million in one time funds for the upcoming school year and nearly $1.75 million one-time from the education fund the following year.

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