Texas Lawmakers Want to Help Women by Removing the Tampon Tax, ‘period'

AUSTIN — When Nora Greene was faced with a class assignment to quantify something from her daily life, she decided to measure her period flow. The 22-year-old design student at the University of Texas at Austin used her menstrual cup to track how much fluid she produced. She graphed the findings to share with her class — all in the name of normalizing periods and the burdens women face every month as a result. “Menstruation is such a normal bodily function that only affects women, who are still struggling to define themselves as equals," Greene said. "You have this bodily thing that is so stigmatized, so you’re further stigmatizing women." For some Texas lawmakers, the stigma of the menstrual cycle extends all the way to the Texas Constitution's tax code, where feminine hygiene products are not exempt from sales and use taxes like other medically necessary products. "I don't know who crafted the tax code, but I can assure you that there were probably not very many women there to speak up, so I'm speaking up now," said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who is one of seven lawmakers who have filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would eliminate the sales tax on feminine hygiene products. "It's not like we have a choice," Garcia said. "We have to go buy the tampons. We've got to buy the Tampax. It's not like we can or cannot, we have to do it. It's medically necessary and part of our bodily function." The bills at the Texas Capitol — two in the Senate and five in the House — would exempt feminine hygiene products like pads, tampons and menstrual cups from the sales and use tax. One bill, from state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, would make them tax exempt only during the regularly scheduled back to school tax holiday.Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, filed a similar bill but said she hopes to revise it once the session is underway to extend the exemption year round. "I want it to be tax exempt, period," she said. "I'm going to say it one more time: no tax, period."Texas charges a 6.25 percent sales and use tax on all retail sales, and local entities can impose an additional tax of up to 2 percent. Many medical supplies are already exempt, including glasses, dietary supplements and most medications. If feminine hygiene products were tax exempt, the state comptroller's office estimates the general revenue fund would lose $19.3 million in fiscal year 2018 and $20.4 million in 2019.State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said she is concerned about the potential impact to the budget but will fight to remove the tax to create a more equitable system."Throughout the system here are these inequalities between men and women," she said. "This is just one small piece of that, but it seems to be basically a no-brainer. Anybody would be hard-pressed to suggest that this is a luxury item, that this is anything but a necessity and an unfair burden upon women. Even if it's in total a small amount, we have to pay the tax."For Greene, cost was a major contributing factor in her decision to stop using tampons and pads and switch to a menstrual cup."There are so many pros to menstrual cups," she said. "They're good for the environment, good for you and much cheaper in the long run."Bipartisan supportDemocrats are carrying most of the tampon tax bills, but the issue has emerged as a potential cause for bipartisan support. Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, has filed a bill outlining a tax exemption and Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, is a co-author on Howard's bill. "I consider this a medical type of item," Springer said. "If you decide you're going to go to the store and buy a bottle of water, you're choosing to buy it. I don't think that women have the same thought process when they go to the store to buy these types of products. It's a necessity."Davis said she would support a temporary tax exemption, such as the proposal in Guillen's bill, if an outright exemption is unsuccessful. But she said seeing bills from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle is promising. "I actually feel pretty confident because you're seeing bipartisan support for it," Davis said. "You've got Republicans and Democrats that are on the same side of the issue; that's kind of rare. The governor did say he wants to cut taxes."Period mathWomen typically get their first period around age 12 and experience menopause around age 50, according to the federal Office on Women's Health. When women experience a regular menstrual cycle, they have their period once every 28 days on average — or once a month. Period lengths vary but can last anywhere between two and seven days.Population estimates from the Texas Demographic Center show that in 2015 nearly 7.4 million Texas women were between the ages of 12 and 50, the average ages during which women are likely menstruating.If each one of these women used only tampons last year, instead of any other feminine hygiene product, how many tampons would Texas women have used in 2015?The Office on Women's Health recommends women change their tampon once every 4 to 8 hours while they're on their period. If the average period lasts 3.5 days, that's 84 total hours of bleeding per woman, per month. If each woman changes her tampon once every 6 hours, that would be 14 tampons per period, or 168 tampons annually.Using these parameters, one can deduce that the 7.4 million women menstruating during 2015 collectively used about 1.2 billion tampons.For context, a 36-count box of regular absorbency Tampax tampons costs $6.97 on a major grocery chain's website.Obviously this calculation is not airtight, as each woman's cycle and feminine hygiene product preference are different. But it highlights concerns of many lawmakers, who say women don't choose to menstruate and purchasing feminine hygiene products is a monthly reality."Feminine hygiene products are necessary for the good health and well-being of all women of reproductive age," El Paso Democrat Sen. José Rodríguez, another author of a tax-exemption bill, said in a prepared statement. "By providing a sales tax exemption similar to those already provided for drugs and other necessities such as corrective lenses, needles, blood glucose monitoring test strips, and some dietary supplements, the legislation will help ensure all Texas women have affordable access to basic health care products while also promoting gender equity."  Continue reading...

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