SPRINGFIELD – A bill that would require schools to provide free menstrual hygiene products in all bathrooms for grades 4 through 12 passed the Illinois House and will now be up for consideration in the Senate.
House Bill 156, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Hernandez, D-Aurora, passed on a 68-43 vote.
“This bill will help hundreds of young menstruators in the state of Illinois,” Hernandez said. “They will no longer be ashamed to go get a product that they desperately need, that they cannot afford. This is a good bill.”
Hernandez said in some cases that there are students who are missing school because they are unable to access menstrual hygiene products or don’t feel comfortable going to a nurse’s office or asking a teacher for a pad or a tampon.
The menstrual hygiene products would be free to the students and be available during the regular school day.
A similar bill, House Bill 3215, was signed into law in 2017. But Hernandez said her bill is necessary because school districts are not enforcing the existing law.
The fiscal note for the 2017 bill stated that this measure would not have a financial impact on the Illinois State Board of Education, but it would instead have a fiscal impact on school districts. The specific amount was not known at the time.
Republicans questioned Hernandez in floor debate about the cost of implementing the measure. She said it will also not have a cost for the State Board of Education.
Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, said school districts are already doing this and the bill “takes away local control” and is “a blanket mandate that will not only be expensive, but reach beyond what the amendment even intends to do.”
Bourne said they should have faith in local school districts to provide for students’ needs in these scenarios.
Rep. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, said he was mostly concerned about the language requiring the products to be available in all bathrooms, which would include male bathrooms.
“There have been male and female bathrooms a hundred years plus in this country and nobody has had a problem taking care of the sensitive nature of being a certain gender,” Chesney said.
“But to perhaps put female products in male bathrooms is not only confusing to a sixth-grader, but completely inapplicable. I would really appreciate it if the sponsor would stay the hell out of my bathrooms,” he added.
Hernandez said this is necessary so that male friends can help out their classmates in emergency situations. Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, added that this is also a more inclusive approach to protect transgender youth.
Willis noted that there may be cases where those who menstruate may identify as male, therefore utilizing the male bathroom. Hernandez’s bill would allow for these youth to be able to access menstrual hygiene products just as easily as other students.
“This is the reason we need to have it in both genders bathrooms. Not only to help each other out…but to be able to be comfortable in whatever bathroom you identify with and need to go to,” Willis said.
HB 156 will now move to the Senate for full consideration.