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‘There’s no happy hour for menstruation’: Tax liquor instead of tampons, lawmakers say

(Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

In September, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have eliminated sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

Brown rejected the bill despite bipartisan support. In a blanket veto message on several measures that would have reduced revenue by a total of $300 million, the Democratic governor said the state’s “precariously balanced” budget couldn’t withstand such a loss.

So one of the sponsors of ill-fated Assembly Bill 1561 came up with what she thinks is a viable alternative: End the  “tampon tax” — while raising taxes on liquor to make up for the revenue loss.

“Common sense is that liquor is a choice and a luxury and human biology is not,” state Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) said in a statement Thursday. “There is no happy hour for menstruation. Our tax code needs to reflect the fact that it’s not okay to tax women for being born women. No one can claim liquor is a basic necessity of life. It’s basics before booze and ladies over liquor.”

Garcia introduced AB 1561 last year. Lawmakers say it would have saved California women about $20 million a year in taxes.

The new Assembly Bill 479, dubbed the Common Cents Tax Reform Act, would exempt tampons, pads and other feminine hygiene products from taxation. To offset the loss of revenue, the bill would impose a $1.20 increase in excise tax per gallon on hard liquor. That would increase the liquor tax from $3.30 per gallon to $4.50.

The increase would affect liquors that are less than 100 proof or are less than 50 percent alcohol. Lawmakers estimate it would be equivalent to an additional 1.5 cents per serving.

“I challenge anyone, Democrat or Republican, who wants to say it’s not worth 2 cents per hard alcoholic drink to pay for these very basic necessities,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), the bill’s co-sponsor, said Wednesday at a news conference, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The ‘tampon tax,’ explained

Garcia’s first attempt to nix sales tax on feminine hygiene products sailed through the Assembly and the Senate last year, but Brown vetoed the bill, along with several others that called for tax breaks.

“As I said last year, tax breaks are the same as new spending — they both cost the General Fund money,” Brown wrote in a veto message in September. “As such, they must be considered during budget deliberations so that all spending proposals are weighed against each other at the same time. This is even more important when the state’s budget remains precariously balanced.”

California’s sales tax rate is 6 percent.

Garcia has long been a vocal opponent of the tampon tax. She argues that feminine hygiene products should not be taxed, just as food and prescription medications aren’t.

“I just want people to realize this is not insignificant — especially if you’re on a tight budget,” Garcia told The Washington Post last year.

Garcia said she had been thinking about the “gender injustice” for a while.

“I think a lot of women have at some point thought about it, you know?” she said.

Garcia’s bill also would exempt diapers. According to her office, diapers cost at least $80 per child per month, and the Common Cents Tax Reform Act would save each family about $100 every year.

The governor’s office has not made any public statements about the bill.

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Although sales taxes don’t specifically target feminine hygiene products, only a handful of states, including Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, give an exemption. Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire and Oregon don’t have any sales tax.

Last year, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) signed a bill that eliminated sales tax on feminine hygiene products. The savings for women is expected to be about $10 million a year.

“This is a regressive tax on essential products that women have had to pay for far too long and lifting it is a matter of social and economic justice,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Washington, D.C., did the same in November. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) signed legislation that supporters say ended a 5.75 percent tax on diapers and feminine hygiene products, The Post reported.

In Florida, a Tampa woman filed a lawsuit to repeal the state’s sales tax on tampons. Carlee Wendell, who sued the Department of Revenue and several retailers, including CVS, Target and Walgreens, argued that taxing feminine hygiene products is “irrational and discriminatory,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported. She also pointed to an alleged double standard: Rogaine, which treats baldness for men, is exempt from sales tax, while tampons aren’t.

“The ‘tampon tax’ is patently discriminatory against women and it’s wrong,” Wendell said, according to the Tallahassee newspaper. “Women should not be forced to pay sales tax on a product that is necessary not only for their health but for public health and safety as well.”

‘They’re as necessary as toilet paper’: New York City Council approves free tampon program

President Barack Obama also weighed in on the debate last year.

“I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items,” he told lifestyle blogger Ingrid Nilsen in a YouTube interview. “I suspect it’s because men were making laws when those taxes were passed.”

“I don’t know anyone who has a period who thinks it’s a luxury,” Nilsen replied.

“Michelle would agree with you on that,” Obama said.

State tax codes don’t single out tampons as “luxury items,” but they’re often taxed as nonnecessities, The Post reported.

Garcia and Fletcher aren’t the only female lawmakers who’ve introduced bills this year to try to drive conversations about women’s issues.

In Texas, state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) recently introduced a satirical bill that would penalize men for “unregulated masturbatory emissions” and would require men to wait 24 hours after an “initial health care consultation” to receive an elective vasectomy, colonoscopy or Viagra prescription, The Post reported.

Farrar knows that the bill, called “Man’s Right to Know Act,” will never be enacted; but she said she hopes it would start a conversation about “unnecessary” and “invasive” antiabortion legislation, the Texas Tribune reported.


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