The measure would appropriate $1M to provide free menstrual products to all students

Hawaii would become the sixth state in the country to provide quality menstrual supplies free of charge to public school students, under Senate Bill 2821, which the state Senate Education Committee unanimously approved Friday.

State Senate President Ron Kouchi said in his opening day remarks, “what struck me is the quote, ‘if we have to make a decision between buying food for the family or getting the right products for their teenager, then the food will win.’ That should not be a choice that our people have to make. We need to ensure that we’re giving them every tool to allow them to succeed.”

The bill advanced Friday and Senate Education Committee Chair Michelle Kidani said senators planned to appropriate $1 million to provide menstrual products to public and charter school students.

Sarah Milianta-Laffin, a STEM lab teacher at Ilima Intermediate School and HSTA member, is a fierce advocate of menstrual equity in Hawaii public schools. Her students provided testimony in support of the bill at Friday’s meeting.

Riezel-Nicole Escoto, Milianta-Laffin’s 8th grade student, testified before the education panel Friday, with a group of students who took turns holding up items like newspapers, diapers, leaves, socks, and dirty rags, asking senators what they all had in common during the committee meeting that was streamed live on YouTube.

“All of these things are things that students in Hawaii have potentially used as menstrual products when they don’t have access to clean and safe period products,” Escoto said.

“This is unacceptable because using anything that’s not meant to go into or on the body during menstruation can make students sick. Students who menstruate are using these things because they don’t have access to the products they need,” she continued.

Milianta-Laffin said in her written testimony, “By supporting this bill, you show that you care about providing basic healthcare and safety to public school students in Hawai’i who currently suffer from inadequate access to menstrual products.”

Persistence pays off for supporters of this proposal

The third time appeared to be the charm for this menstrual equity proposal after being introduced at the Legislature for the third year in a row. A similar bill in 2020 that focused on bringing free menstrual products to public schools didn’t pass due in part to COVID-19-related budget cuts.

Last year, HSTA’s Board of Directors passed NBI 44 in allowing HSTA to advocate to end period poverty in Hawaii’s public schools by getting the Legislature to supply free menstrual products to students in need. HSTA’s Government Relations Committee added the fight to end period poverty to its 2022 Legislative Priorities.

At the 2021 NEA RA, Milianta-Laffin successfully introduced a new business item to raise national awareness about period poverty and the lack of student access to menstrual supplies. Her measure was approved by 95 percent of NEA delegates, with none speaking out against her proposal.

Milianta-Laffin hoped NEA’s approval of her measure would be a “beautiful beginning of teachers organizing nationally to fight period poverty in our schools.”

Watch: The moment Milianta-Laffin’s class hears the Senate Education Committee’s decision to pass the bill

Last year, Milianta-Laffin was awarded the HSTA’s Award for Teaching Excellence for her leadership in areas of scholarship, teaching, advocacy, community and youth. As the recipient of HSTA’s award, she will be HSTA’s nominee for the national 2022 NEA Foundation Awards for Teaching Excellence.

After Friday’s vote to advance SB2821, it next will be heard by the Senate Ways and Means Committee and in the state House. Legislation is subject to amendment and change and the final outcome will not be clear unless and until lawmakers pass the bill in some form and it becomes law with or without Gov. David Ige’s signature.

Attend the Senate’s Menstrual Equity Bill Town Hall

The Hawaii state Senate is hosting a virtual town hall on menstrual equity via Zoom and Facebook live on Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 5:30 p.m. Attendees can learn more about ending period poverty in Hawaii’s schools from speakers including state Senator Laura Acasio, Co-Founder of the Ma’i Movement Nikki-Ann Yee, and local educators and student advocates.

Over the last year, period equity bills have been introduced in 37 states, according to Women’s Voices For The Earth, a nonprofit advocacy group. Five states currently require schools to provide menstrual products. In November, California became the latest to do so, mandating that public schools and colleges stock free pads, tampons and other products in their restrooms.