Frontier students work with lawmakers to file bill on menstrual products

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-07-2023 4:41 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — What began as a class project exploring students’ civic identities has found its way nearly 100 miles east, as three Frontier Regional School students testified at the State House Tuesday afternoon to support a bill they helped file with local legislators.

Over the course of the last year, freshmen Anna Haskins, Greta Hale and Malcolm Howard have worked with state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Deerfield, and Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, to introduce bills H.2138 and S.145, which would require menstrual product manufacturers to list the ingredients contained in products like tampons, pads, menstrual underwear and other similar items. The legislation is based on similar bills signed into law in California and New York.

Haskins said that during their project research in 2022, the students discovered that some menstrual products contain potentially harmful chemicals. The students believe consumers should know the ingredients that are present in the items they regularly use. Some manufacturers already list a few ingredients in their products, but the students’ bill is seeking to require all ingredients be listed.

“We found that important because a lot of the population uses menstrual products, and it is something that you put in your body or it touches your body,” Haskins said. “It’s like food, it’s like medicine — you don’t want something that you have no idea what it is, in your body or harming you.”

“It affects everyone; it’s not like some private issue or only for some demographics,” Howard added. “Everyone uses one themselves or knows somebody who uses” menstrual products.

The students’ bill originated from Frontier’s annual Civic Action Project, a mandatory student-led assignment for all eighth graders in Massachusetts in which they must undertake a non-partisan civics project to inform their peers and encourage them to participate in democracy. Frontier eighth grade history teacher Jason Smith said Haskins, Hale and Howard took it upon themselves to reach out to Blais, who then visited the school last year to talk about civics.

Smith said the project creates a chance for students to learn about their role in democracy and the ways in which they can begin to create positive change.

“The students often start the school year thinking that they, as young people, have no capacity to create real change,” Smith said. “The Civic Action Project process has given the students a sense of their ability to create change and to be civically engaged even before they reach voting age. Because the kids choose the topics and create the projects from the ground up, there tends to be a great deal of student engagement and overall enthusiasm.”

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Blais and Legislative Aide Corinne Coryat visited Frontier again on Monday, chatting with the students and coaching them ahead of their appearance before the Joint Committee on Public Health in Boston on Tuesday.

“Their presentation was really, incredibly impactful for me as a legislator,” Blais said. “It’s given me a really unique insight into what’s on the minds of young people. … I am blown away every single time by the depth of the research that [the students] do — the outreach, the surveys, all of those things.”

The visit also served as a lesson on the process bills go through to become law, as they are referred to several committees before potentially making their way to the full House and Senate. Blais noted it is “unlikely for a bill to move forward the first time,” but smaller bills can sometimes be folded into larger ones if there is room for it.

Even if the bill gets sent to a study committee, Blais said the filing of H.2138 and S.145 serves as a wonderful opportunity for the students to learn about the legislative process and how laws are made.

“I am so, so happy that you are taking this to that next level,” she told the students. “I recognize priorities can change, and the fact that you’re continuing on with this and continuing to push it forward is really incredible. I want to thank you for all of your work on this and for getting us to where we are today.”

On the State House floor on Tuesday afternoon, Blais called the students “statewide leaders,” while Joint Committee on Public Health chairs Julian Cyr and Marjorie Decker thanked the students for taking time out of their day to come to Boston and participate in the legislative process.

“Your voices are really important and you are really leading the way, not just for your peers, but for adults, and I’m already thinking about how I’m going to take your testimony and have my 12-year-old and my 14-year-old read it,” Decker said. “Thank you for just being incredible leaders, not of the future, but of today.”

As for the students, they described the “surreal” opportunity as one that opened their eyes to how they can attempt to make real change in their communities.

“I guess I never imagined it would get to this point,” Hale said of their project. “It makes me realize we really do have power as young people.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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