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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Morrell prefiles bill to exclude tampons and diapers from state sales tax

Posted By on Wed, Apr 5, 2017 at 5:22 PM

click to enlarge State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, wants to exclude tampons and other women's hygiene products, as well as small diapers, from state sales tax.
  • State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, wants to exclude tampons and other women's hygiene products, as well as small diapers, from state sales tax.
A New Orleans lawmaker wants to exempt tampons and other feminine hygiene products, as well as diapers, from the Louisiana sales tax. But pre-session blowback to Senate Bill 24 is already starting, he says.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, says some males already are arguing against the prefiled proposal as a “special handout” to women, and say it's only fair their beer and fast food be exempt as well.

If signed into law, SB24 would ban state sales tax from tampons, menstrual pads, sanitary napkins, panty liners, menstrual sponges, menstrual cups and cloth and disposable diapers size 7 and smaller.

And the beer argument is only one of many that Morrell expects, predicting he will encounter “plenty” of opposition: “No one wants to talk about it because it’s uncomfortable,” he says.

Morrell says he does not predict any formalized opposition and considers some arguments legitimate, such as cutting any revenue from the state in a time of budget crisis. But others seem to be less legitimate based on what he said is a “fundamental misunderstanding," he says.

“I have had an older legislator ask me, ‘Why do you think this is essential?’” Morrell says. “I said, ‘Because the alternative is, if a woman can’t afford these products and is bleeding while at work, they obviously can’t go to work.’ And it took a few seconds for the light bulb to go off in his head.”

Morrell is not banking on female lawmakers automatically to back his bill simply because they are women, either. “There are women in the House who won’t vote for equal pay.” he said.

But some women’s organizations, including Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, are supportive. “Taxing these essential products places an unfair and expensive burden on women — especially those living in poverty,” said Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast spokesperson Kirby Smith. “This bill would move Louisiana forward toward economic and social equity for women.”

Angela Adkins, president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), said Morrell’s bill is “long overdue” and she “could not be happier” that it is pre-filed. Adkins predicts there may be opposition due to the budget shortfall, but that her organization will be “working hard” to ensure it passes into law.

Adkins called the current legislation “a tax on being a woman and a tax on being a mother.” She also stressed the issue pertains to entire families, not just women in isolation. “Wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts,” she said. “We all need these products and we can’t do without them.”

Morrell said Louisiana leads the nation in single-family households, children in poverty and single family households led by women. This, he said, makes taxing feminine hygiene products and diapers “unconscionable and immoral.”

Adkins said these feminine products should be treated as medical supplies “because it is something we all have to have.”

The state Constitution already forbids taxing sales of food purchased for home consumption, residential utilities and prescription drugs.

Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, said her women’s rights organization is conducting research on the impact of sales taxes for feminine hygiene products in New Orleans, where the combined sales tax is 10 percent; the state’s portion is 5 percent.

Erenberg said the average cost of a box of tampons is $7 and for a box of pads is $8, and a woman typically uses one box per menstrual cycle. Morrell estimated the average family spends around $60 per month on diapers.

“For the average woman, it’s a cost-savings of probably a few bucks each month,” Erenberg said. “But for women living below poverty, a few bucks can be the difference between providing a meal for one of your children or not.”

The law only addresses state sales tax. It does not mandate that local governments exempt the tax but rather gives them the option of collecting its portion of the tax. Historically, local taxes do not stray from state taxation policies, Adkins noted.

Women make up more than half of Louisiana’s population. Erenberg said that should suggest the bill will have widespread support. “[But] we oftentimes see pushback on any policies that overwhelmingly benefit women and families, especially any concerned with women’s reproductive health and childbearing,” Erenberg said.

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