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Bill wants free feminine products in public school bathrooms

Vinnie Lauria
flickr creative commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Women's restrooms in Michigan's public schools and state-owned buildings should be stocked with free tampons and menstrual pads – the same as they are with toilet paper.

That's according to legislation introduced in the Michigan House.

State rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St.Clair Shores, said for women and girls, access to feminine hygiene products is a health care necessity.

"It's something that we have to have in order to go about our day when we are menstruating," said Roberts. "They're essential to women's health, and we don't have a choice of whether we can use them or not."

Roberts said women and girls who are caught off guard when their period starts shouldn't have to worry about how to find a tampon or exact change. 

Roberts said availability of feminine hygiene products is a particular problem for low-income girls. She said she's heard reports of teachers and school staff using their own money to buy them for girls who can't afford them. And some students are afraid to tell their parents when they need money for them because they know it's expensive for the family.

According to Roberts, this is also a matter of public health. "We've seen an increase in toxic shock syndrome, and that's really related to women using tampons for too long a period of time," Roberts said. "Women will do that if they can't afford enough tampons to get them through their menstrual cycle or if there isn't one made available."

Roberts has also introduced a bill to exempt tampons and sanitary pads from Michigan sales tax, comparing them to other necessary items like food and prescription drugs that are exempt. 

"Men get this uncomfortable-ness. They just don't really want to talk about it," said Roberts. "They'll say, 'Well, they're not necessary items.' And I'll say, 'Well, you've never been a woman who has started her period at work.'"

Roberts said one of her goals is to get rid of the stigma associated with talking about women's monthly periods.