Eliminating the tampon tax: Texas teams staff up

A coalition of menstrual well being organizations is interesting a choice by the Texas Comptroller’s Workplace to disclaim its protest towards the state gross sales tax, which they are saying unfairly and unconstitutionally doesn’t exempt tampons, pads and different hygienic merchandise.

If the dispute isn’t resolved on the executive stage, Meghan McElvy, associate on the Houston-based worldwide legislation agency Baker Botts, stated she plans to take the case all the way in which to the Texas Supreme Court docket if needed. The legislation agency is taking over the case professional bono on behalf of the Texas Menstrual Fairness Coalition.

“It’s simply sort of a no brainer concern to me,” McElvy stated. “(Male) libido enhancers are tax-exempt, however medically needed merchandise for ladies should not.”

The group, which incorporates numerous youth-led advocacy organizations, has requested for a re-determination listening to from the Comptroller’s Workplace. It comes after the company denied their unique request for a refund of gross sales tax on tampons, pads and panty liners purchased by a Harris County girl.

The Comptroller’s Workplace declined to remark, citing state legislation that makes refund declare data confidential.

That is simply the most recent effort in a nationwide motion that kicked off within the 2010s aiming to finish the so-called “tampon tax.”

As of now, a slim majority, or 26 states, tax menstrual merchandise, whereas the remaining don’t, both as a result of they’ve exempted them or as a result of they’re one of many 5 states that don’t levy a gross sales tax, in line with Interval Regulation, an advocacy and authorized group.

States with exemptions embody Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In Texas, state lawmakers lately have tried to cross payments on the matter with out success. Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who chairs the Texas Ladies’s Well being Caucus, has filed a invoice each session since 2017. In 2021, Home Invoice 321 received out of committee however by no means made it to the Home ground — essentially the most progress any such invoice has ever made.

Howard credited younger girls in highschool and school, lots of whom belong to teams that run donation drives to assist low-income folks entry the merchandise, with transferring the needle final 12 months by displaying up in Austin to testify on the invoice. She stated she hopes to to construct on their progress within the upcoming legislative session.

“We all know there are numerous Texas women and girls who do not need sufficient cash to afford these merchandise,” she stated. “(A gross sales tax exemption is) not going to go a great distance, however it’s a step in proper route.”

Howard stated a lot of the pushback on the Legislature comes from members involved concerning the finances. The Comptroller’s Workplace estimated in 2021 that the invoice would have value the state about $42 million in misplaced income within the subsequent two-year finances cycle.

“Within the grand scheme of issues, it is a very small fiscal impression,” Howard stated. “I maintain going again to the discriminatory a part of it as a result of in some unspecified time in the future, you make choices as a result of they’re the precise choices to make.”

Zoe Kass, 18, a co-founder of the Texas Menstrual Fairness Coalition and advocacy director of the Interval Pact Houston, a youth-led group working for menstrual fairness, was one of many college students who helped transfer the needle final 12 months.

Kass stated when she discovered about different states’ efforts to finish tampon taxes, she requested her dad if he would possibly know any attorneys who would assist the coalition deal with the problem in Texas, freed from cost. He requested round and, to her shock, Baker Botts agreed to assist.

“I used to be so excited as a result of I used to be 17 on the time — you’re sort of used to having folks not take you very severely,” she stated. “So it’s very nice to have individuals who actually know what they’re doing have that confidence in us.”

Within the coalition’s enchantment to the Comptroller’s Workplace, its argument is twofold: First, the state’s tax code already exempts “wound care dressings,” outlined as an merchandise that “absorbs wound drainage, protects therapeutic tissue, maintains a moist or dry wound surroundings (as acceptable), or prevents bacterial contamination.” Examples embody gauze and adhesive bandages.

Menstrual merchandise serve the identical objective and may fall into that class, the coalition argues. It provides that different merchandise that won’t historically be thought of “wound care dressing,” equivalent to callous removers or callous cushions, already obtain an exemption.

Secondly, the coalition asserts that the coverage is unconstitutionally discriminatory as a result of it denies equal remedy primarily based on an individual’s intercourse, noting that male-specific merchandise like libido enhancers and prostate nutritional vitamins are tax-exempt.

Katherine Loughead, senior coverage analyst with the Tax Basis, a conservative-leaning suppose tank, stated the “tampon tax” phrase has confused some individuals who might mistakenly suppose it’s a product-specific tax, when actually it refers back to the normal gross sales tax being utilized to menstrual merchandise.

Loughead stated exemptions of any type value taxpayers extra in the long term as a result of governments have to boost gross sales tax charges to maintain up with these income losses.

There are different higher options, she stated.

“The extra economically impartial method can be to maintain the gross sales tax as broad as potential, so it applies to most closing client items and providers,” she stated, including that governments can nonetheless assist low-income girls entry menstrual merchandise in different methods, equivalent to by means of spending-based applications like rebates or grants.

McElvy stated it’s unclear to her whether or not the Comptroller’s Workplace as an company has ever thought of this concern earlier than.

“It could have simply been one thing that’s been accomplished that means so lengthy they’ve simply by no means thought of it as a result of nobody ever raised the problem earlier than,” she stated. “So we’re actually very hopeful that they take this chance to make it proper.”

[email protected]