State News

Following UW-Madison’s lead, state lawmaker wants to require free menstrual products in state buildings

State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, said her menstrual product accessibility bills would “level the playing field.”

Image By: Thomas Yonash

After the successful introduction of a UW-Madison pilot program that put free menstrual products in university bathrooms, a state representative from Madison is once again attempting to implement a similar policy on a statewide level.

State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, has long been a champion of improving access to menstrual products and she introduced legislation Monday that would require state buildings to provide free tampons and pads. In the past, she’s authored similar bills, none of which have gained traction in a Republican-controlled Legislature.

This session, Sargent is pairing her menstrual product-requirement bill with another piece of legislation that she says would improve “hygiene product accessibility.” That bill would create a tax exemption for menstrual products, allowing women and other individuals to purchase tampons and pads without paying a sales tax.

“Hygiene products are necessities, not luxuries, and it’s time our laws reflect this fact,” Sargent said in a statement. “There’s no analogous sex-based tax on any other good, and no analogous hygiene need exists — you can choose to use or not to use soap or toothpaste, but there’s no alternative for using hygiene products.”

The bill to put free menstrual products in state-run buildings is a long shot, Sargent acknowledges. The costs of such a policy would dwarf those of university programs that have put hygiene products in bathrooms, such as at UW-Madison and UW-La Crosse.

But the tax exemption bill has gained mild traction in the past, largely because it has had a Republican backer — state Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, has worked with Sargent on creating such a policy in the past, and is supporting her legislation again.

Sargent is hoping that after successful smaller-scale initiatives to provide low-income people and others with menstrual products, her “Hygiene Product Accessibility Act,” which includes both bills, will not be immediately shot down as in previous sessions.

But experts say the chances of either bill passing are slim. Sargent is one of the most liberal members of the Assembly, and has traditionally introduced many bills that are seen as long-shots for passage.

Nevertheless, Sargent says she will continue to fight for women and individuals who menstruate, especially those who are most affected by lack of access to hygiene products.

“These bills are simply about making sure people aren’t unfairly penalized just because they menstruate,” Sargent said. “This is especially true for women who are underrepresented at every level, which has historically led to menstruation being financially penalized and socially stigmatized.

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