National Women's Political Caucus of Washington

Bill Highlight #2: Providing a sales and use tax exemption for feminine hygiene products

Tampon Tax

“Why are items like Pop-Tarts and Rogaine not taxed, but tampons are?” That’s a good question and one that has started to gain attention from policy-makers nationwide.

Editor’s Note: Why has the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington been working for over 40 years to recruit, train, and elect women to office in Washington state? Because when women lead, all women win. With that in mind, we are tracking 2019 legislation that would have a significant impact on the lives of Washington women.

Washington House Bill 1053, “providing a sales and use tax exemption for feminine hygiene products,” along with two similar pieces of legislation in the state Senate, are currently being debated this legislative session. These bills would exempt feminine hygiene products like tampons, pads, and menstrual cups from sales and use taxes. This matters because 1) our sales tax rate is currently 6.5% and depending on local municipalities, the total tax rate can be as high as 10.4% and 2) our state has a regressive tax system (meaning taxes like the sales tax are applied uniformly, resulting in a larger percentage being taken from low-income people than from high-income people), so exemptions like this one could make a big difference, especially for our state’s low income women.

To break it down, sales tax is usually placed on what are considered non-essential goods such as alcohol or electronics. State government implements exemptions for items considered basic necessities like groceries. That’s pretty straightforward, but it becomes harder to understand when items like Pop-Tarts, Rogaine, and Viagra are all exempt and yet feminine hygiene products are currently not.

The proponents of exempting these products from what is commonly called the “tampon tax” or the “pink tax,” argue that feminine hygiene items are already basic necessities for many women and therefore should qualify for an exemption. The primary sponsor of the bill, Representative Reeves, said, “"For any woman in the room, you know this is not an option — this is a product you have to buy.” Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, author of the book “Periods Gone Public,” agrees. She writes, “Managing menstruation "is a critical aspect of the lives and civic participation of more than half the population," and should be considered when making policy.”  

Right now 10 states agree and have already passed similar legislation (Florida, Nevada, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island). There are also a handful of countries that have decided not to tax these products either.

At NWPC-WA, we believe menstrual hygiene items are basic necessities and taxing them puts an unfair burden on half of our population. HB 1053 is a great example of why we work to elect more women to office, so that they can then use their position to fight for equity and give voice to issues that impact women in our state.

Interested in tracking this legislation?

Click here to follow the progress of the bill.

Click here to find your state legislators to contact them in support of this bill.

This is the second in a series of blog posts, highlighting bills proposed in the Washington State Legislature this year that impact women. Stay tuned for future posts!

Hannah Febach is a communications specialist volunteer for NWPC-WA.

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