January 31, 2023

Bill to provide free menstrual products at schools passes committee

Laura Paskus

The House Education Committee unanimously passed a bill that will, if enacted, make menstrual products free in the public and charter schools in New Mexico.

HB 134, sponsored by House Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, appropriates $3 million from the general fund to the New Mexico Public Education Department to provide free menstrual products in the public schools and charter schools. The funds will be recurring but the Fiscal Impact Report states that the biggest cost would be the dispensers placed in the bathrooms, rather than the products. Once schools have bought and installed the dispensers, the program might require less money over time, the report says.

The FIR also says that while 20 percent of teenagers, nationally, have difficulty affording menstrual products, that number rises to 25 percent for Hispanic teenagers. The FIR says that 25 percent of menstruating students have missed class due to a lack of menstrual products.

During the public comment period on the bill, student after student spoke out in favor of the bill, relaying personal experiences about missing class or sport practice due to unexpectedly menstruating and lacking menstrual products. One teen said she once had to use something that was not meant to be used for menstruation because she found herself without menstrual products at school. Other students reported bringing menstrual products to school only to run out because so many other students asked for help.

Trujillo said this bill will “allow menstruators to reach their full potential.”

House Rep. Jack Chatfield, a Republican from Mosquero, said he would vote for the bill but he recommended removing the line that the products would be in “at least one men’s bathroom in every public middle school, junior high school, secondary school and high school.”

“It will cause some unnecessary silliness,” Chatfield said.

House Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, a Republican from Roswell, recommended Trujillo consider an amendment that would remove the men’s bathroom language from the bill.

Ezzell also asked about how the money, once appropriated to the New Mexico PED, would be distributed to the schools, if the PED would send out RFP’s to vendors or if the individual school districts would. A representative from the Legislative Finance Committee said it was possible the PED would distribute the funds directly to the school districts to let them purchase the products and the dispensing machines. Ezzell said she had a problem with that and that an RFP should be “put in place where it is consistently monitored and stocked.”

Ezzell also asked if school districts’ cash balances could be used to offset the cost. Trujillo said it was her understanding that that would be the case. According to the Legislative Finance Committee’s analysis, school districts and charter schools have $525 million in cash balance for Fiscal Year 2022.

The bill heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee next.