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Bills exempting tampons from Texas sales tax went nowhere this session

Despite state lawmakers filing several bills exempting tampons and other menstrual products from sales taxes, the measures didn't draw serious attention from the legislature this session.

Texas would be the first southern state to provide tax exemptions on female hygiene products related to menstrual cycles.

Ahead of this year's legislative session, seven lawmakers – six Democrats and one Republican – filed measures with the same goal: exempting tampons and other menstrual products from sales tax.

The proposals followed similar moves by several other states. 

Yet in Texas, the bills proved to be dead-on-arrival. 

“The real bottom line to me is that women are being unfairly taxed, period,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat. “This is not something we have an option, that’s frivolous or cosmetic. This is medically necessary.”

Well before the start of the current legislative session, which ends Monday, both Garcia and state Sen. José Rodríguez, an El Paso Democrat, filed bills eliminating the sales tax on menstrual products, including tampons, sanitary napkins and menstrual cups. Both bills were referred to the Senate Finance Committee, where they were never scheduled for a hearing, the necessary next step to move a bill out of committee and onto the full Texas Senate for a vote.

In the House, five lawmakers – Democrats Donna Howard of Austin, Carol Alvarado of Houston, Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City and Gene Wu of Houston and Republican Drew Springer of Muenster – filed similar bills and faced the same outcome at the House Ways and Means Committee: no hearings.

Garcia said she was told that her bill and the other measures related to the "tampon tax" would not gain any traction this session while lawmakers were dealing with a tight budget.

Howard could not explain why her bill did not receive a hearing but said that the House Ways & Means committee heard at least 18 bills this session related to exempting other items from the sales tax, like Texas flags and light bulbs.

“I believe only one bill actually made it to the floor — exempting heated bakery items when not sold with plates or eating utensils — which is on its way to the Governor,” Howard said in an email.

Both House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, and Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, declined to comment for this story.

Twelve states do not tax menstrual products; seven states specifically exempt them from sales tax while five do not have sales tax at all. Connecticut passed a sales tax exemption for menstrual products last year, which will take effect in July of 2018.

In December, Texas Comptroller's Office spokesman Kevin Lyons told the Tribune that the fiscal implications of eliminating sales tax on feminine hygiene products could cost the state nearly $40 million in lost revenue over the next two years.

Garcia questioned that projection and said she has asked the Comptroller's office for more information.

“I said, ‘I would like to see how your people came up with that number and I hope this was a woman who did the numbers to understand how this really works,’” Garcia said. “Factor in the number of women who don’t use tampons, or who have hysterectomies or other issues — some women go through menopause earlier — there’s a lot of factors that go into this." 

Advocates argue that menstrual products should be exempt from sales taxes like other health care items.

“Despite the potential loss of this revenue, I believe putting these extra dollars in Texans' pockets makes at least as much sense as doing so with those items currently exempted from sales tax, such as newspapers and coin-operated amusement services," Howard said.

Garcia said she plans to file the same bill during the next session in 2019 and is hopeful it will draw a more serious debate.

“The next step is getting a hearing and have women and experts come talk about this, and have the opportunity to have a full public conversation about it and convince members of finance committee that it is unfair,” Garcia said. “We’ll wait and see how the economy turns up and hopefully it won't be seen as negatively as it was this time around.”

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