While an effort to provide free feminine hygiene products in publicly funded school and state buildings has gotten no support from Republicans who control the Legislature, a similar pilot program in Dane County is poised for approval on Thursday.
The county program would begin in 2016 in eight locations where low-income women would most benefit from access to free tampons and pads, said Sup. Heidi Wegleitner, of Madison, the resolution’s sponsor.
The resolution has the support of 24 board members. Only 19 votes are needed for it to pass.
The move follows an effort by state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, to require all publicly funded school and state buildings to supply those products on the state’s tab. After circulating the measure for co-sponsorship, Sargent said the bill has been turned in with only Democratic support.
Though Sargent is not hopeful the bill will pass this session, she sees the debate that it has stirred as a success.
“It has started a wave of conversation of why is it that women and girls don’t have all their basic public health needs in bathrooms in the same way that men do,” Sargent said.
“There are a number of bills being produced now in regards to who uses what bathroom,” she said. “If people are concerned about bathroom equity, they should also back this.”
Locations for the county program have not been decided yet but could include the City-Council Building, the Dane County Job Center and the county jail and courthouse, Wegleitner said.
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Board members have been working with the county Human Services Department to select locations that provide the most access to low-income women.
Since this is something that has never been done before there are a lot of questions, Wegleitner said, adding that a pilot allows the board to monitor costs and implementation.
“I strongly support it and I haven’t heard any opposition,” said Carousel Bayrd, the board’s first vice-chair. “This will let us pilot in eight locations but I want to see it in more.”
Funding for the pilot program has already been included in the 2016 county budget signed Tuesday, Bayrd said.
Wedleitner said costs include $5,700 to change dispensing machines from coin-operated to free, and $500 for an additional supply of products.
She said she hopes the county resolution prompts other entities to follow suit.
“We want to encourage school districts and other municipalities to expand access as well as follow our initiative,” Wedleitner said.
It can be difficult for low-income women to buy personal hygiene products, which cannot be purchased with state FoodShare benefits, she said.
Wedleitner saw a similar effort take place in New York City.
“It’s a really important issue but people don’t think about it often,” she said. “It is something small but can make so many people’s lives easier.”