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Legislation To Provide Free Tampons To Missouri Inmates Moves Forward

Missouri State Capitol dome
Missouri State Capitol dome

Updated March 9 with committee passage

The Missouri House Corrections and Public Institutions committee met briefly on Tuesday and passed the measure requiring corrections facilities to provide free tampons for inmates.

When the legislation was held up in committee, supporters began working on alternate avenues to get it passed before the end of session. On Tuesday, Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, offered the language as an amendment to a senate bill related to correctional centers.

The Missouri Department of Corrections supplies free sanitary napkins and tampons and has done so since 2019. This is an effort to codify it into law to ensure that county jails throughout the state offer these products free as well.

Updated March 8 with hearing scheduled

A hearing for the Missouri House Corrections and Public Institutions committee has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 9 at noon. House bill 318, the measure requiring the state to provide tampons for menstruating inmates, is scheduled to be voted on.

Original story from March 7:

The Missouri House is considering legislation that would provide free tampons to inmates, but it may not make it out of committee because of political infighting.

During a recent Corrections and Public Institutions Committee hearing on the bill, Chairman Andrew McDaniel, R-Deering, asked members to vote whether to send the measure out of committee to the full House. Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, supported the bill but said he wanted to have an amendment drafted beforehand. McDaniel said Aldridge could offer an amendment on the House floor, but he wasn’t holding another hearing for weeks.

“If we don’t vote on this stuff today, I won’t hold another committee hearing until the end of April, so this bill will be dead,” McDaniel said.

Rep. Kim Collins, D-St. Louis, pressed McDaniel.

Collins said: “Am I allowed to ask why?” And McDaniel replied: “It’s politics. I’m just being honest.”

McDaniel could not be reached for comment about the decision.

When Aldridge pointed out that any bill that would be heard in committee at the end of April likely wouldn’t make it through the 2021 session that ends in May, McDaniel said that was the choice of the members who didn’t feel prepared to vote on proposals at that time.

Collins, who said she has several bills that have not yet been referred to the committee, was disappointed by the decision.

“In the middle of a pandemic, this committee is so important,” Collins said. “To let months and weeks go by to not have a meeting, there’s just so much we can accomplish in this committee.”

This committee deals with issues related to the Department of Corrections, including getting inmates the coronavirus vaccine.

The tampon proposal has bipartisan support, and those in favor say it’s about restoring dignity for inmates. Liza Weiss, executive director of Missouri Appleseed, said not providing feminine products for free is also a health risk.

“In the Department of Corrections, when tampons aren’t provided, over 80% of the women reported making their own homemade tampons and of those, 27% reported infections,” Weiss said. “We had similar data for St. Louis County.”

The bill sponsor, Bruce DeGroot, R-Ellisville, said there will be some cost to the state — about $200,000 — but it’s worth it.

“It truly is such an insignificant amount of our whole budget to give just a small amount of dignity,” DeGroot said.

Those championing the proposal still think they’ll be able to get it passed before the end of session in May.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Jaclyn Driscoll is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. She joined the politics team in 2019 after spending two years at the Springfield, Illinois NPR affiliate. Jaclyn covered a variety of issues at the statehouse for all of Illinois' public radio stations, but focused primarily on public health and agriculture related policy. Before joining public radio, Jaclyn reported for a couple television stations in Illinois and Iowa as a general assignment reporter.