Texas Lawmakers Demand Tax-Free Tampons

Melissa Harris Perry Tampon Earrings MSNBC

Tax-free tampons is the clarion call of six Texas lawmakers–five Democrats and one Republican–all intent on proposing legislation that would exempt feminine hygiene products from state sales tax by reclassifying these items as necessities.

State Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) plus House members Donna Howard (D-Austin), Carol Alvarado (D-Houston), Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), and Drew Springer (R-Muenster) pre-filed separate, similarly worded bills in preparation for the state’s 85th Legislature which convenes on January 10, 2017.

They seek to amend Chapter 151 of the Texas Tax Code and grant exempt status to such feminine hygiene products as “tampons, panty liners, menstrual cups, sanitary napkins, and other similar tangible personal property sold for the principal purpose of feminine hygiene in connection with the menstrual cycle.”

Springer filed House Bill 410. He told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal he learned about the tampon tax from his constituents. They heard about feminine hygiene product sales tax battles going on in other states. “They don’t think the tax is fair–that men’s products aren’t taxed and women’s products are,” said Springer .

Texas exempts sales tax on a host of over-the-counter medicines like cold remedies and analgesics, acne treatments, antiperspirants, nicotine gum or patches, dietary supplements, wound care, insulin, and prescription drugs. In 2000, sunscreen was exempted from sales tax but is no longer. So were condoms, which qualified as over-the-counter health items to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Today, though, they are taxable.

According to the Lubbock newspaper, state-declared tax exemptions also apply to drugs required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be labeled with a drug facts panel, extending sales tax-free status to items like Viagra, which is what Springer meant when he referred to men’s products.

Only a handful of states–Maryland, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York–do not tax tampons and maxi-pads. Nearly 40 states tax them as “luxury goods.”

Almost one year ago, two California state assemblywomen proposed a bill to eliminate the tampon sales tax. One of the authors, Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) decried that taxing tampons exacerbated the pay inequality between men and women, especially in impoverished communities where women “struggle to pay for basic necessities” like feminine hygiene products. She said if California could not make these products free, they should at least make them more affordable.” In September, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed that bill and the taxable revenue from these products continues to stream into the state’s coffers.

In March, women in Cleveland sued the Ohio Department of Taxation, alleging sales tax on feminine products as discriminatory. They demanded an $11 million per year refund to the state’s female customers. State Representative Kristin Boggs argued tampons were necessities, not “luxury” items.

Texas imposes a 6.25 percent state sales and use tax on all retail sales, leases and rentals of most goods as well as taxable services, according to the state comptroller’s office. Local counties and municipalities can then add up to two percent sales and use taxes for a maximum combined sales tax rate of 8.25 percent.

Springer told the Texas Tribune the only obstacle he foresees with reclassifying feminine hygiene products is the hit the state would take in lost tax revenue. State Comptroller’s Office Spokesman Kevin Lyons ran an estimate on the fiscal implications of a tampon sales tax exemption and projected a revenue loss reaching roughly $19.3 million in 2018 and $20.4 million in 2019.

Nonetheless, Representative Howard, who authored H.B. 219, called tampon tax relief  “a matter of fairness and parity.” She told the Tribune, exempting these products from sales tax is a necessary statewide law for women. Likewise, H.B. 232 author Representative Alvarado said the state’s current tampon sales tax “poses an unfair burden on women for something we don’t control.”

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