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Legislators look to toss out ‘tampon tax’

Virginia’s sales tax covers almost everything you buy, from athletic socks to zippers. But it doesn’t apply to medicine, contact lenses and certain other personal health items. Now, the General Assembly is considering adding feminine hygiene products to the list of exemptions.

Del. Mark Keam (Fairfax County) introduced House Bill 952, which seeks to remove the sales tax on tampons and sanitary napkins in Virginia. Currently these items are taxed at the standard rate, like most other items: 6 percent in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, and 5.3 percent in the rest of the state.

“I think that most people, Republican and Democrats, would agree that this is an unfair tax,” Keam said Wednesday in an interview in his office at Capital Square. “It’s not equitable for women to have to pay a tax on something that guys don’t have to spend money on.”

Virginia is one of 40 states that tax tampons and sanitary napkins. Of the 10 states that don’t tax these products, five deliberately changed their laws specifically to end the policy. The other five do not have a sales tax at all.

“I believe this is such an essential product for women that in the code of Virginia, we have a discriminatory impact on one gender and not on the other,” Keam said. “From a policy perspective, I don’t think it makes sense for us to treat women differently from men in terms of what they have to buy as an essential product.”

The tax on tampons by many states has generated controversy and discussion on the Internet recently. President Obama weighed in on the issue in an interview with YouTube personality Ingrid Nilsen for the news organization AJ+.

Obama said he has no idea why states would tax feminine hygiene products. “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”

Keam’s bill would add feminine hygiene products to the list of miscellaneous sales tax exemptions in Virginia. The list currently includes such things as firewood, eyeglasses and hearing aids.

“My goal is to make this a parity issue, and not turn it into a partisan fight over who supports women more,” Keam said. “I want to make this about making our tax law equitable for everyone.”

HB 952 has been sent to the House Finance Committee. Keam, who is a member of the committee, said the panel is awaiting the results of the economic impact study on the bill. The study would estimate how much revenue the state would lose by exempting tampons and sanitary napkins from the state’s sales tax.

Despite the fact that Keam is a man, he believes changing the policy is something all Virginians should care about: “I like nontraditional messengers. I want men to say, ‘This isn’t just a women’s issue, but we as men should have responsibility for policy making that deals with these issues as well.’”

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