By Stacey Sauter

In one of the most outrageous attempts yet to stretch its tentacles of progressive racial justice into every nook and cranny, the Council is now deliberating the “Menstrual Products Access and Equity Act”. Its passage would “require places of public accommodation to provide menstrual products in certain public restrooms at no charge to users.” To the casual observer, places are already providing hygiene products such as toilet paper, soap, and towels. So why not?

Well, on November 12th I testified before the Montgomery County Council against Will Jawando’s proposed Bill 42-43 -- a measure that would require any and all places of public accommodation, including restaurants and gyms -- to provide feminine hygiene products FREE-OF-CHARGE. That’s right. Free feminine hygiene products for the masses with the full cost being absorbed by taxpayers and approximately 3,900 businesses and other organizations in Montgomery County. Last week I had an opportunity to speak directly to County Executive Marc Elrich about the literal dangers of it, leaving me unsure as to who was more startled: Elrich over not having calculated certain health risks of the bill; or me that he was startled and asked me to send more detail to his office. I’m talking about contaminated tampons and the potential for deadly Toxic Shock Syndrome. First, some background on Jawando’s bill.

It’s an expensive, unnecessary, and potentially deadly give-away. And why is Jawando pushing this? The answer, perhaps, is in the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight review of the bill; particularly in the six-page “Racial Equity and Social Justice” section, stating it will have a “positive impact on RESJ in the County. Increasing access to free menstrual products…will especially benefit lower-income community members who are more likely to be Black or Latinx. White-owned businesses are likely to bear most of the cost of associated with this bill.” Let that quote sink in. “White-owned” businesses and organizations will bear the brunt of this Jawando give-away. As if the business climate in Montgomery County doesn’t suffer enough regulatory fatigue, could “white owned businesses” also end up being subjected to civil rights violations for non-compliance, which already has a steep price? The Department of Health and Human Services will issue “Class A” civil violation citations for failure to comply with a $500 daily fine until the problem is resolved. A second offense begets a $750 daily fine. God forbid your establishment should run out of tampons just when the Period Police show up.

But that should be the least of their concerns. Expensive lawsuits are another. While the OLO investigated the impact of this bill from several other perspectives (including climate change), they missed the most critical one: the potential serious health effects of tampons. According to the National Library of Medicine, there are three classes of medical devices, with the FDA considering tampons to be in “Class II”. In this middle category, products “generally have more interactions, longer periods of sustained contact, and potentially greater impact on patient’s well-being.” It should be noted that other Class II medical devices include infusion pumps, syringes, dental filling materials, blood transfusion devices, contact lenses, and even wheelchairs.

So why Class II for tampons? You might recall that in the early 1980s, 38 women died from Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) which was directly related to super-absorbent tampon use. The products have since improved. But to this day menstruating women using tampons are still at most risk of getting TSS, particulary if the product isn’t changed frequently enough.

As a regulated product, tampons are also subject to recalls – of which businesses may be unaware. For example, in 2011, the Kimberly-Clark Corporation had to recall 16,000 cases of their Kotex Natural Balance Security Tampons after they tested positive for metallic particles and high levels of bacteria. Though the company diligently shipped those cases off to be destroyed, thieves intercepted the shipment and then sold the harmful product to unsuspecting retailers. What’s to stop businesses or other establishments here from acquiring tainted tampons from unregulated overseas vendors or the Black Market? If a woman gets such a tampon from a business and becomes gravely ill, who do you think will get sued first – particularly as the place of public accommodation was freely distributing a Class II medical device without warnings or supervision? As written, Bill 42-23 doesn’t address this potentiality, nor specify which brands of feminine hygiene products are even acceptable or where they must be sourced. The only accountability is for quantity – and one that presents an an incalculable cost for businesses forced to stock up. Restaurant owners already complain that toilet paper and soap are frequently stolen. A free supply of tampons in bathrooms around the county will likely lead to theft, black market sales, and potential fines if a random visit by a health inspector finds them missing.

The state of Maryland has mandated that these products be made available for free in schools and prisons beginning in 2025. In Montgomery County alone, $468,000 has been slated to provide feminine products in schools. But Bill 42-23 will include Montgomery College and all Department of General Services operated facilities, driving the cost to taxpayers up to $1.4 million in the first year, and $979,800 in each subsequent year. On top of the expense of dispensers and products, this includes an additional health inspector at an annual salary of $122,000 per year, plus a new car at a projected cost of $56,000. Over five years the cost for Bill 42-23 is projected to be $7,287,000 to the taxpayers. What’s next? Adult diapers for senior citizens?

Managing the needs of one’s body starts young for girls. But part of growing up is learning to anticipate your physical needs. And part of being a grown-up is not expecting the county’s “Nannie State” to take care of all your personal needs. Certainly there are places where dispensing these products in a controlled environment like schools and prisons might make sense. But Bill 42-23 is one that poses potential harmful health effects on women – plus expensive legal, financial, and social effects on those targeted establishments required to supply menstrual products.

For those reasons Jawando’s bill -- root, branch and all – needs to be eliminated.


Stacey Sauter is the Vice Chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party, a former candidate for Maryland State Delegate, a REALTOR and frequent guest of 21 This Week. She can be reached at [email protected]

Montgomery County Republican Party