New legislation was introduced last week in the Michigan state Senate to remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products.
Feminine hygiene products — which include tampons, pads and reusable menstrual cups — are classified under the tax code as luxury items. This means they are subjected to the state’s 6-percent sales tax. However, Michigan’s code does exempt medically necessary goods, such as medications and catheters, from the sales tax. Legislators who proposed the bill argue that feminine hygiene products fall under this category.
An attempt was made to introduce similar legislation during last year’s session, but it did not get a hearing in the Senate. Sen. Rebekah Warren (D–Mich.), who was one of the four legislators to propose the bill, told the Daily she thinks this time will be different.
“This year, we’re excited because we had the bill (submitted) in the beginning of the session really quickly, just a few weeks after it started,” Warren said. “We were able to get a number of bipartisan co-sponsors, who have urged the chairman of the finance committee to have a hearing, so we’re pretty positive that we’ll get a hearing this time around.”
If the legislation passes, Michigan will join the small but growing list of states that no longer tax feminine hygiene products. Minnesota, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have removed the luxury good designation from tampons and pads, and several other states have recently introduced bills to do so as well.
Though it is intended to help all women, supporters of the bill hope the legislation will especially have a hand in improving the lives of the many women of the state living in poverty. The average woman uses these products once a month for roughly 40 years of her life, and while the 6-percent sales tax may seem small, Warren feels it adds up.
“They’re not inexpensive, and they’re products that women … spend money on every single month, so that 6-percent tax is just money they aren’t spending in other places,” Warren said. “We have a pretty large percentage of women and children living in poverty, and anything that we can do to help those women find resources is a benefit.”
Joanne Bailey, a women’s studies lecturer specializing in women’s health, agrees all women should have easier access to menstrual hygiene products, considering what little choice women have in the matter.
“Of course, we shouldn’t have it be taxed in general,” Bailey said. “All women menstruate; it’s something all women have to pay for … Menstruation happens, and you have to manage it somehow, so I think that is a component of women’s health.”
On the other hand, as happy as she is about the proposed legislation, Bailey feels there might be more pressing issues for our senators to solve.
“In the grand scheme of things, this is a very small part of all our problems right now,” Bailey said. “If this were six months ago, I would’ve thought, ‘Woo hoo, so cool!’ … (But) it doesn’t solve the whole problem. It’s still expensive without the 6-percent tax, and it’s still a monthly expense. So, it’s one step in the right direction.”
LSA sophomore Kellie Lounds, co-chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats’s feminist advocacy group, agrees with Bailey. However, she worries even the proposed legislation might not consider all the problems surrounding menstrual products.
“I think it’s really cool, but in the current presidential administration and in our current state administration, things like equal pay and health care are taking more of a hit, so maybe that’s what we should be working on,” Lounds said. “And I’ve been thinking about the sustainability of these products a lot lately. They generate a lot of waste … so that’s something I think we should consider as a population in general.”
Lounds does feel, however, that if the legislation passes, it will be a big help to college women. She’s hoping that the school might follow suit in helping to make tampons and pads more accessible.
“College is expensive, and life is expensive, and you don’t want to have to worry about shelling out a good amount of money for something you have to have,” Lounds said. “I think it would be really cool if the campus health system provided them for free like they do with condoms. This (bill) might help with that.”