Virtually every woman of child-bearing age has had that panicked moment: she gets her period unexpectedly in a public bathroom and doesn’t have menstrual products. For low-income women and girls who cannot consistently afford pads or tampons, the experience is more common.
The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill requiring all shelters, schools, and jails to provide free menstrual products “in a convenient and non-stigmatizing manner.” The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would estimate the cost to schools, and the Legislature would appropriate state money to pay for it.
Sen. Pat Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat, said on the Senate floor that she was inspired to introduce the bill after meeting girls at Somerville High School who were urging the school to put free menstrual products in bathrooms. “They said if their periods started unexpectedly during school they didn’t have time to rush to the nurse’s office, then the restroom, then the next class,” Jehlen said. “They said sometimes they miss class or school because they didn’t have products with them or at home.”
According to Jehlen, 17 percent of school nurses buy students pads or tampons with their own money. “We don’t expect school nurses to pay for toilet paper for everyone in the school,” Jehlen said. “Why should they pay for menstrual products?”
Sasha Goodfriend, executive director of Mass NOW, the state chapter of the National Organization for Women, said at least 11 states have passed laws making menstrual products free in schools, five states provide them free in jails, and only one state, Illinois, requires them in shelters. If Massachusetts adopts the bill, she said, it would be the “most comprehensive menstrual equity bill in the country.”
Today, Goodfriend said, Massachusetts jails provide the products for free, though many corrections officers do not know that is the policy. Some schools – including those in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Fall River, and Medford – provide supplies, but many do not. Most homeless shelters do not provide menstrual products.
Goodfriend estimated that menstrual products can cost $12 or $13 for a one-month supply.
Leimary Llopiz, an advocacy assistant at the Southeastern YWCA, has been distributing free menstrual products to homeless shelters, schools, and community organizations around New Bedford. Last year, she got a donation of more than 4,000 products – and ran out within four months. “It’s nonstop. They ask me for it continuously,” Llopiz said.
Llopiz said she builds relationships with girls in single-father households, whose fathers do not know how to teach them about menstruation. She meets mothers who have gone without products – including a mother who placed socks in her underwear instead of pads – so they can afford to buy supplies for their daughters.
The Senate, which is led by female Senate President Karen Spilka, also Wednesday passed a bill requiring MassHealth to cover new mothers’ postpartum care for a year, up from 60 days. Sen. Joan Lovely, a Salem Democrat, said on the Senate floor that pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid, which covers low-income individuals, are more likely to have birthing complications than women with private insurance. Complications like postpartum depression can develop six months after a birth.
Health Care For All, a health care consumer advocacy organization, said pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths are a growing crisis across the US, and Black women are three times more likely to die of a childbirth-related cause than White women.
“Sixty days of coverage is not sufficient to address the medical and behavioral health needs of the postpartum period,” said Yaminah Romulus, policy manager at Health Care For All.
Both bills now go to the House.
Counting the seats: The Massachusetts Gaming Commission sidestepped the issue of whether concerts and other events held in Encore Boston Harbor’s ballroom violate state law after being told by Encore the number of seats available for an upcoming event was unclear. The Ticketmaster website, however, seemed definitive, showing more than 1,500 seats available. Rival theaters in the area say state law bars Encore from holding any event with between 1,000 and 3,500 seats, a measure designed to protect mid-size auditoriums.
– “I didn’t want the public thinking that the commission just disregarded this,” said Karen Wells, executive director of the commission. “This is something that we’re monitoring, but it may not even be an issue that would necessarily have to go on to the commission based on the numbers.”
– The upcoming event at Encore is called Combat Zone 75 and is being held on March 17. The commission has two meetings before then to address the situation.
Round one: An offshore wind bill backed by House Speaker Ron Mariano sails through the House but Gov. Charlie Baker says he views it as “round one” in Beacon Hill’s debate over energy. Read more.
Transcript trap: Olivia Rosa, Ashley Salomon, Gabriel Toro, and Kristina Carvalho push legislation that would bar colleges and universities from withholding transcriptions from students as leverage to settle debts owed to their schools. Read more.
Looking out for Berkshires: Rep. Smitty Pignatelli of Lenox says East-West rail needs to become West-East rail if it’s going to get done right. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Lawmakers file a bill to divest the state retirement systems’ Russian holdings and sever ties with Russian companies. (Salem News)
The Senate releases its version of a bill reforming the governance structure at the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes. After the House bill was criticized for muddying the chain of command, the Senate bill cuts several steps out of that chain, making it clear who reports to who. (MassLive)
Gov. Charlie Baker orders executive branch agencies to terminate contracts with any Russian state-owned companies and review any partnerships with Russian companies. (MassLive)
Baker explains his opposition to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s real estate transfer tax. (GBH)
New Bedford Light columnist Jack Spillane dives into the horse-trading going on in the New Bedford City Council over how to spend federal ARPA funds.
Russian troops have seized control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, in southeastern Ukraine, and the fire that had started there is now out. (New York Times)
Republican Anthony Amore announces a run for state auditor. (State House News Service)
Attorney General Maura Healey says she has no regrets about opposing the legalization of recreational marijuana. (State House News Service)
A new settlement with Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma could net Massachusetts $110 million. (WBUR)
A study sponsored by the gig work tech companies says a ballot question that would classify their workers as employees would lead to huge job losses, a finding the ballot question proponents dispute. (Boston Globe)
Commonwealth Kitchen, an incubator for food-related businesses, buys the building it is occupying in Dorchester for $7 million. (Dorchester Reporter)
Boston University, Northeastern University, and Suffolk University all drop mask mandates for most places on campus. (Boston Globe)
Lady Gaga and YoYo Ma are among the musicians who have unclaimed property in Massachusetts. (Associated Press)
While experts predict that electric cars will eventually dominate the market, buyers have been slow to switch for a range of reasons. (Telegram & Gazette)
A federal judge ordered another delay – the fourth so far – in the date for former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia to report to prison because of the extension he was given to file arguments for an acquittal or new trial on corruption charges by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Correia is now due to report to prison on April 5. (Herald News)
State Trooper Tamar Bucci, 34, was struck and killed by a passing gasoline tanker truck as she was responding to a disabled motorist on I-93 in Stoneham late last night. (Boston Herald)
The state inspector general says state troopers may have inflated their hours in hundreds of paid details. (Boston Globe)