Should NH remove the requirement for schools to offer free period products in bathrooms?
This year there has been a lot of attention on school policies related to sex and gender, but not every bill has received the same scrutiny. One bill, HB 129, would ease the state requirements for schools to provide free pads and tampons in bathrooms. The bill received almost no attention in the House of Representatives but may hit some roadblocks in the Senate.
A history of period poverty law in NH
In 2019 Gov. Sununu signed a bill that required every public middle and high school in New Hampshire to provide pads and tampons in female and gender-neutral school bathrooms for free.
The new law, SB 142, aimed to address the issue of period poverty. Some low-income families cannot afford pads or tampons. The school nurse can provide a free pad or tampon, but a trip to the nurse comes with embarrassment and lost class time. Students may instead use rags or other makeshift pads, or they may simply stay home from school.
There are no statistics about how common period poverty is specifically in New Hampshire, but roughly 9% of New Hampshire children under age 18 live below the federal poverty threshold, according to U.S. Census data. A 2021 national poll (commissioned by Thinx Inc. and the nonprofit PERIOD) found that one in five teens has struggled to afford period products, and one in four teens has missed class because of lack of access to period products.
When Gov. Sununu signed the law he wrote, “This legislation is about equality and dignity. SB 142 will help ensure young women in New Hampshire public schools will have the freedom to learn without disruption – and free of shame, or fear of stigma.”
Not everyone was as excited about SB 142 as Gov. Sununu, however. Rep. Jess Edwards, a Republican from Auburn, was quick to argue that this law violates Article 28-a of the New Hampshire Constitution. That article requires the state to pay for any new programs it demands towns, cities, and school districts implement. He argues SB 142 violated the constitution because it requires schools to provide pads and tampons for free without any reimbursement from the state.
Roll back law on free pads and tampons in schools?
Rep. Edwards has tried a couple of times to revise SB 142. This year he sponsored HB 129. As introduced, that bill would require the state to the state to cover the cost for schools to provide pads and tampons to students for free in school bathrooms. He included a formula for how much money each school would get.
The House Finance Committee didn’t like that idea. They completely rewrote HB 129, making a few changes to state law. Notably, the amended version of HB 129 removes the requirement that free pads and tampons be located in school bathrooms; public schools could choose to make the period products available elsewhere, such as the nurse’s office. The amended bill also removes the specific reference to middle and high schools, requiring all schools to provide free products to menstruating students in need, regardless of their age. The amended bill does not include any state funding.
Committee members spent almost no time debating this rewrite—possibly because their discussion of HB 129 followed several onerous hours of work on a bill to replace New Hampshire’s current juvenile detention facility. The full House vote on HB 129 was similarly overshadowed by votes on a Parent Bill of Rights, no-knock search warrants, voter ID changes, and other controversial bills.
Arguments for, against requirement for free pads and tampons in school bathrooms
Supporters of HB 129 argue that it removes potential legal issues for the state while giving schools flexibility to provide free pads and tampons in a way that makes sense for their school district.
At the first public hearing for HB 129, Principal Lori Collins of the Auburn Village School testified that it was a significant expense and inconvenience to provide free pads and tampons in school bathrooms. “We have had septic issues, we have had pads stuck to ceilings, pads stuck to walls,” she said. She also noted that when a student must ask a nurse or teacher for a pad or tampon, it provides an opportunity to build trust and connect that student with more help.
Opponents of HB 129 argue that it allows schools to return to a system where low-income students must ask embarrassing questions, miss class, seek out the nurse’s office, or jump through other hoops when facing period poverty.
Attorney Amy Cann was one of several individuals who testified to the magnitude of period poverty during the Senate Education Committee hearing. “I understand a principal’s frustration, but that’s nothing compared to 42,000 students’ humiliation and embarrassment,” she said.
Representative Steve Woodcock testified about his personal experience as a high school softball coach; one player on his team regularly missed school due to period poverty.
Sean Parr, representing the Manchester School Board, also spoke in favor of keeping the requirement for free period products in school bathrooms. However, he also provided testimony in favor of state funding for these products, which the original version of HB 129 addressed.
Next step for period poverty law
Update: The Senate voted to kill HB 129.