Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, announced Monday new legislation to provide feminine hygiene products in public school and government building restrooms, but the bill has not seen much support.
Sargent said her bill aims to put tampons and pads on the same level as paper towels, toilet paper and soap — all of which are now provided by the Department of Administration. Under Sargent’s bill, feminine products would also be provided.
Sargent said basic sanitation needs are already being paid for in public bathrooms, and women’s hygiene shouldn’t be treated any differently.
She said as women become a larger part of the workforce, it is important for them to have access to feminine hygiene products in public places in case of unexpected periods. Easy access to tampons enables women to be full participants in society, she said.
“No one should have to miss work or school, or risk their own health, or compromise their own dignity, simply because they have gotten their period,” Sargent said. “It’s really important that we create a system that allows people to manage normal, everyday bodily functions.”
Sargent said the biggest concern people have with her bill is the cost of implementation. She is waiting for a fiscal estimate from the Wisconsin Government Fiscal Bureau and expects to receive it by the end of the week.
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Janet Hyde, University of Wisconsin gender and women’s studies professor, said having tampons in bathrooms would be a good resource, but is concerned about how products would be dispensed. She said if tampons and pads were just lying in baskets they could be tampered with and become contaminated.
“I think they would have to be dispensed in some kind of controlled way so you would be confident that they are sanitary,” Hyde said.
Sargent said her bill doesn’t mandate how the products would be regulated or dispensed. She said that would be determined by the DOA.
Some commenters on Sargent’s Facebook page have criticized the bill. In response to a picture of Sargent and an intern sending a co-sponsorship email for the bill, commenters describe the legislation as “ridiculous” and “a joke.”
“Is this really necessary?” one commenter wrote. “[Aren’t] there more important issues to focus on?”
Hyde said she feels ambivalent about the bill and thinks it is unimportant compared to larger issues of women’s rights.
Sargent said her bill has bipartisan support, but only from women.
“Women on either side of the party aisle that I have talked to very much believe that this is something we should be doing,” Sargent said.
Sargent said despite support from women, she doesn’t anticipate her bill will even get a public hearing.
Even if her bill doesn’t make it to committee, Sargent said she hopes it will spark discussion about this important issue and get rid of the stigma attached to menstruation.
“It’s a normal thing to menstruate,” Sargent said. “It’s not extraordinary. I don’t think we’re asking for something extraordinary.”