Photo by Nicole Jennings

Photo by Nicole Jennings

Proposed law would make tampons free for some college students

The bill would ensure that those with low incomes can have access to clean products, say proponents.

Washington state lawmakers are considering a bill that would require community and technical colleges to provide free tampons or sanitary pads to students. Representatives in the House Higher Education Committee passed the bill out of committee on Wednesday.

“It smartly identifies something that should not have taken us this long to identify,” said Representative Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, chair of the House Higher Education Committee.

Representative Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup, the bill’s prime sponsor, said HB 2863 ensures that those with low incomes can have access to clean products.

She got the idea for the bill from a Pierce College student who raised concerns about the costs of the products, the impact on low-income students, and a debit card culture in which students often do not have quarters to pay for tampon dispenser machines in women’s restrooms.

Stambaugh said that other colleges and four year universities around the state offer limited free feminine products in women’s restrooms. The University of Washington Seattle campus has a similar need-based system in place in many women’s restrooms. She asked lawmakers to also consider adding four year universities to the bill.

“We support the positive impact that this bill would have on our female students, especially those that are low income and are experiencing homelessness,” said Erin Frasier, policy associate for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

Frasier asked the committee to consider funding the products for community and technical colleges. A hearing in the appropriations committee is not yet scheduled.

“This bill is asking for a small price that will go a long way in students lives,” said Leah Mobley, legislative liaison for the Associated Students of Central Washington University.

She said that the average woman spends anywhere between $60 and $200 per year on feminine hygiene products depending on personal needs. She said it doesn’t seem like much to some people, but for a low income college student already paying for tuition, housing, and books, it can be a hefty price.

According to 2016 Global Industry Analysts, the feminine hygiene market is worth $5.9 billion and is expected to grow to $6.2 billion by the year 2020.

Washington State includes feminine hygiene products like tampons and pads in its sales tax. As of January 2017, five states have no sales tax and seven states exempt menstrual products from their sales tax.

HB 1265, also sponsored by Stambaugh, would exempt tampons and pads from the state’s sales tax. The bill was introduced last year but has not yet had a hearing.

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.