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Hawaiʻi begins fight for free period products for students in the Senate

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Nearly one-third of residents experienced, or know someone who experienced, difficulty obtaining menstrual products, according to a report by the Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women and nonprofit organization Maʻi Movement Hawaiʻi.

There is a national movement to provide more access to period products by removing the sales tax or supplying them for free in public bathrooms.

This year, the Hawaiʻi State Legislature is introducing three bills to provide free period products at all public and charter school campuses. There are currently five states that provide free products to students.

Joseph Passantino is the principal of Princess Ruth Ke’elikōlani Middle School in Honolulu. The school participated in a pilot program that gave free pads and tampons to students, organized by the Maʻi Movement.

"We are one of the poorest schools in the state of Hawaiʻi," Passantino said. "Most of our students come from low-income housing. We have a very diverse demographic."

"So when you take those indicators, and you look at them into play, then you realize — and I think we are charging young ladies 25 cents a pad. So what if these kids didn't have it right? It becomes like a challenge for them and then is that how we want to operate?" Passantino said.

SB2821 is the first of three period poverty bills to receive a hearing. The Senate Committee on Education will take up the issue Friday afternoon.

The other two bills that are demanding free menstrual products for students are SB2546 and HB2249.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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