Senate Bill 891 needs to clear a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee by Friday to advance.

Lawmakers want certain state buildings to provide menstrual products at no cost.

The National Organization for Women estimated that the average menstruating individual spends about $20 on feminine products every monthly cycle. 

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“Any woman going through their period understands that sometimes accidents happen,” said state Sen. Joy A. San Buenaventura. “And there’s a need to have menstrual products available.”

So San Buenaventura this year has introduced Senate Bill 891, which requires the Department of Accounting and General Services to readily provide menstrual products at no cost in specified restrooms of public buildings maintained by that department.

San Buenaventura did not have an estimate for how much that would cost, and the bill does not provide one either.

In 2022, Senate Bill 2821 mandated that  menstrual products be available and free of charge to all students on all public school campuses. The state allotted $2 million to the Department of Education to purchase pads and tampons across Hawaii public schools.  

Sen. Maile Shimabukuro said that last year’s program brought a lot of attention because of the positive feedback that came from students and girls.

“Hopefully, we will continue to ride the tide and this topic will continue to stay on top of people’s minds,” she said.

Capitol building.
Lawmakers want certain state buildings to provide menstrual products free of charge. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

By having feminine hygiene products available for anyone, San Buenaventura said she aims to dissipate shame and fear within girls and women and normalize the fact that anyone can experience “red accidents.” 

“I grew up poor, so I thoroughly remember having to go find some place that had readily available products,” San Buenaventura said.

The State Commission on the Status of Women collaborated with Maʻi Movement Hawaiʻi and reported in 2021 that 29.5% of respondents or someone in their household had a difficult time obtaining period products, and 58% of them said that cost was the primary problem. 

San Buenaventura said that every bill in previous sessions failed because they could not find the tax revenue source that would even out the tax loss. 

“A public-private partnership is the only way to ensure that we have ongoing funding,” she said of the proposal under SB 891.

The Maʻi Movement has supported such initiatives since 2020 and was involved in advocating for last year’s K-12 period products bill.

“Before there was money allocated,” co-founder Nikki-Ann Yee said, “we ran a pilot in six schools and provided period products for the entire year.”

But there might be some financial headwinds that could make expanding programs like those in public schools difficult.

San Buenaventura said that the Maʻi Movement could succeed last year because “we had the record revenue generation that we figured we could fund as an ongoing debt, but it cannot go on if we are looking at a recession.”

Yee said that SB 891 is just the first step to correct gender inequities in even broader legislation. 

“I’m optimistic,” Shimabukuro said. “We have a surplus this year –  if any year is the year, this is the year  to ask for bills that require appropriations in them.”

A similar bill is in the works to require the University of Hawaii to provide feminine hygiene products at no cost to all students on the University of Hawaii and community college campuses.

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