Cristina Garcia
Cristina Garcia
Shane Lopes

Free Tampons Are Coming to a Public School Near You

For Southeast L.A. County state Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, making menstrual products easier to obtain for California women has become a major cause in the last few years. She's embraced a nickname given to her, the Tampon Queen. But, until recently, her reign in the realm of menstrual health has been unsuccessful.

A proposal to make such products tax-free in the Golden State was vetoed last year. This year a similar bill didn't even make it out of committee. But the lawmaker from Bell Gardens finally found victory in AB 10, which requires lower-income schools to provide menstrual products to girls at no charge in half the bathroom on a given campus.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed it. Garcia, who rose to prominence as a community activist during the city of Bell corruption scandal and is now the chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, is elated. "I'm really proud and excited," she says.

"Practice makes perfect."

Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law & Poverty, called it "landmark legislation for California." She said New York City schools have a pilot program that mirrors AB 10. She said providing the products free to lower-income girls encourages them to come to school, feel normal and participate in extracurricular activities. That, in turn, increases their chances of graduating, going to college and landing good jobs.

"It's a great measure of equity," she said. "The humiliation of poverty runs deep. This isn't going to solve the fact that a girl growing up in poverty is treated differently in so many ways. But it's one little thing we can do to make sure girls feel welcome at school."

The bill requires Golden State public schools that include grades 6 through 12 and that meet "the 40 percent pupil poverty threshold" to make tampons and pads available to girls for free in at least half the bathrooms. It would appear that a good portion of the Los Angeles Unified School District, where as much as 80 percent of students have come from households at or below the poverty line, would have to adhere to the new law, which goes into effect next year.

LAUSD spokeswoman Ellen T. Morgan said via email, "Historically, our school nurses stock pads."

Garcia says she plans to take another shot at eliminating the so-called tampon tax during the coming legislative session next year. She also wants the governor to consider simply funding the tax cut via his next budget. But if he doesn't, she says she'll be back with a menstrual products tax bill.

"We're talking to the governor's staff, trying to make the case he should include this in his January budget," Garcia says. "I'm going to push all possible avenues."

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