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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bills to address Washington’s ‘tampon tax’ died without a hearing

Boxes of tampons are displayed in a pharmacy March 7 in New York. (Associated Press / Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – Amid a national discussion on the fairness of taxing feminine hygiene products, two proposals to end that “tampon tax” in Washington didn’t get a hearing this year.

Proposals to eliminate the state’s sales tax on feminine hygiene products would have saved consumers $4.6 million next year, an official estimate says.

Both bills – one in the House and one in the Senate – were referred to committees that study tax and budget issues, but neither received a hearing.

Republican Sen. Joe Fain, of Auburn, proposed a sales tax exemption on feminine hygiene products that had bipartisan co-sponsors. While he disagrees with many complaints about Washington’s sales tax as being regressive, in this case, he thinks it’s true.

“I kept hearing about this as ‘the luxury tax’ on tampons,” he said. “It’s not a luxury tax, it’s just a sales tax. It’s not something people can choose to purchase, it’s an absolute necessity that they purchase.”

Rep. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said she was aware of the national movement to eliminate the tax, did some rough calculations and concluded the average woman pays about $350 in taxes for feminine hygiene products over her childbearing years. That amount seemed small enough for individual taxpayers that she tried redirecting the money rather than ending the tax. In January, she proposed using it on domestic violence programs, an issue that predominately affects women.

When that bill didn’t get a hearing, she proposed another bill in mid-February to eliminate the sales tax on those products.

“I believed if I couldn’t get bipartisan support for re-appropriating the taxes, then we should aim to eliminate them since these products are medically necessary for women,” Wilson said in an email.

Although the bills didn’t get hearings, the Department of Revenue estimated how much sales tax revenue comes into the state general fund from those products. It calculated about $4.6 million per year for the next three years, and $5.5 million a year after that.

With the Legislature in a special session trying to develop a balanced budget, the tax-exemption bills in the Senate are presumed dead. That’s because the $4.6 million they would save consumers would be money the state’s general fund didn’t get, and could have to be replaced by other means.

Fain said the state should take a comprehensive look at the possibility of exempting these products and other necessities, such as diapers and children’s school supplies, from the sales tax to help young families. But that’s not usually a topic for a supplemental budget, he added.

“We need to to move from (the tampon tax) being a whimsical thing to a serious conversation about lessening the tax burden on necessary things,” Fain said. “I’ll introduce the bill again next session.”

The national push to eliminate sales tax on feminine hygiene products has generated an online petition backed by Cosmopolitan magazine, led seven states to consider legislation and prompted a lawsuit in New York challenging that state’s tax, the Associated Press reported recently. Five states do not tax those products.

The lawsuit in New York contends the tax on feminine hygiene products is unconstitutional when some other products used by both genders, such as lip balm, foot powder and dandruff shampoo, are not taxed.

In Washington, however, there is no difference in the tax rate between those items and feminine hygiene products. Consumers pay a sales tax on almost everything except food and prescription drugs.