COLUMBIA — One South Carolina lawmaker says the state could do one simple thing to ease everyday life for women.
Rep. Cezar McKnight, D-Kingstree, introduced a bill this week that would require all public buildings owned by the state, along with any state agency, office, or institution, to supply free tampons and sanitary napkins in each women’s public restroom.
“I thought, ‘Wow, it’s unfair that someone has to pre-plan their day and do things that I, as a man, don’t have to,’” he said. “We should lead the way. As our state agencies do it, our private businesses will pick it up.”
The freshman lawmaker and attorney said Wednesday that some have already warned him that his bill seems more like a “women’s issue.”
McKnight’s response: “No, it’s a human issue. This isn’t something they elect to have.”
A menstrual cycle, that is. For girls in the United States, the average age it starts is 12. Monthly periods continue for about the next 40 years.
Conservative lawmakers have traditionally warned of the potential abuse of public resources by state residents, pointing to the need to restrict food stamps, unemployment benefits and other assistance.
McKnight’s bill, H. 5110, may prompt a new question: Will women frequent the S.C. Department of Transportation restroom or, perhaps, the state Supreme Court to line their purses with taxpayer-funded tampons?
“Do people rush into bathrooms and steal toilet paper? I think that’s ridiculous,” said McKnight.
“I welcome the person that makes (the argument), because they’re going to look crazy.”
Asked about the concept of McKnight’s bill, Rep. Jonathon Hill, an Anderson County Republican, was measured, pausing for several seconds before answering.
“I certainly can see the logic in,” he said. “As far as cost, I don’t know what costs would be. Clearly, that’s a lot more expensive than toilet paper. But also, the frequency of use I don’t think would be as high. So it kind of helps there on cost.”
He said he’s open to debating the bill.
“It’s an idea that has some merit,” added Hill.
Rep. Donna Hicks, too, considered the bill: “I say for government buildings, that would be fine.” But the Spartanburg County Republican said she’d oppose an effort to force the change on private businesses. McKnight’s bill pertains solely to state-owned property.
“I do understand the need to have feminine products available. Sometimes you’re caught unawares,” said Hicks.
Rep. Jenny Horne, a Charleston Republican who is challenging U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford for the 1st Congressional, declined to voice an opinion on the concept of the bill.
“I’d have to look at it,” she said, walking into the House chamber. “I wasn’t aware of it.”
Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, D-Lancaster, was unequivocal.
“It’s a basic need,” she said.
“I don’t know the fiscal impact of it, but we supply toilet paper in public restrooms.” She wondered if the proposal would apply to public schools, too, or if those would be considered district-owned.
The S.C. Legislature is about 86 percent male, but bill proponents expressed optimism that lawmakers would be able to see the usefulness of coin-free feminine protection in public buildings. One dozen Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors, including seven men.
“There are a lot of men in here with wives and daughters,” said McKnight.
“Once they go home at night and get an earful from the ladies back home, I think they’ll come aboard.”