The Senate Education Committee passed a bill requiring that school districts provide feminine hygiene products, defined in the bill as “tampons and sanitary napkins for use in connection with the menstrual cycle,” in school bathrooms for grades 6 through 12, with the state picking up the costs.
“No child should miss valuable class time due to lack of access to menstrual products,” Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), the bill’s prime sponsor, said in a statement. “This legislation will keep students in the classroom by making supplies readily available to those who need them.”
While the core of the bill – ensuring easier access to menstrual products in schools – proved uncontroversial, several members of the committee objected to the bill’s gender-neutral language, which seems to mandate menstrual products in both women’s and men’s bathrooms.
“What are we doing here with this bill?” asked State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Oxford). “This is the craziest bill I’ve ever seen… There’s a full-fledged assault now on families and people of faith. God made man and woman, that’s it.”
Concerns about the bill’s language, and its implicit relation to transgender issues, caused both of the committee’s Republicans to vote no on the bill. Doherty tried to amend it mid-hearing to specifically apply only to women’s bathrooms, but he had no written amendment text to present and the proposal was defeated.
Although all three Democrats voted yes, State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence) said she would vote against the bill if it came before the full Senate without a clarification that it would only apply to women’s restrooms.
“I cannot vote for it if we’re going to be putting [menstrual products] in all of the bathrooms, because it’s costing a great deal of money … and I don’t see the necessity of putting them in all bathrooms if they’re not going to be used in all bathrooms,” Turner said.
After the committee meeting ended, Gopal said that “clearly there are concerns” about the legislation, but that he would leave the negotiations over the bill’s language to Ruiz.
The bill was first introduced by Ruiz and State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Delran) in 2019; it has now been successfully advanced from committee three separate times, but has yet to ever reach the full Senate. Its Assembly counterpart, sponsored by Assemblywomen Gabriela Mosquera (D-Gloucester) and Carol Murphy (D-Mount Laurel), has never come for a vote in committee.
This legislative session, there has been a broader wave of bills related to menstrual health, with a number of assemblywomen leading the charge to increase access to menstrual products and education.
Included in that raft of legislation is a bill sponsored by Assemblywomen Shanique Speight (D-Newark), Britnee Timberlake (D-East Orange), and Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City) that would require all schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, to provide access to tampons and other products in school bathrooms. That bill is more specific in its gendered language, requiring that menstrual products be provided in all women’s and gender-neutral restrooms as well as in at least one men’s restroom.
It’s not clear how that bill and the less precise bill passed out of Senate committee today might be reconciled.
Also clearing the Senate Education Committee today was a bill that would allow 6th through 12th grade students to take one day off school per year to attend civic engagement events. The bill, which was first introduced last session at the prodding of various high school activists, previously passed the Assembly Education Committee in March.