Commentary: Tampon tax ends in Utah. Other states should follow suit.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The House Chamber in Salt Lake City on Thursday Dec. 12, 2019, as lawmakers hold a special session focusing on tax reform.

It happened. There were doubts. There were moments of elation and moments of frustration. But it happened.

Pending the governor’s signature before the end of the year, Utah will become the next state to eliminate the so-called “tampon tax.” Introduced for the past four legislative sessions as a stand alone bill, it was killed every time, before reaching the floor for a full vote. Now the exemption of menstrual products from sales tax is about to become law, occupying a line item in Utah’s massive tax overhaul.

The bill itself has elicited a mix of criticism and praise. Criticism for its regressive components — like reimplementing sales tax on food, offset for people who are low-income by a food credit. Praise for creating Utah’s first ever earned income tax credit.

It is a bittersweet victory. Utah can be the worst. Literally. One 2019 study ranked Utah 50 out of 50 for women’s equality — based on workplace environment, education, health, and political empowerment. Utah has the largest salary gap — women earning 70 cents on the dollar earned by male counterparts — 10 cents lower than the national average of 80 cents on the dollar. And the state is among those with the fewest women in politics. These statistics add up to a drastic lack of female economic and political power, making it difficult for women’s issues to get air time at all—let alone appear in a major tax reform bill. But timing is critical. Utah legislators may recognize the power of a growing bipartisan demand for menstrual equity.

Efforts to scrap the tax have gained traction worldwide, including in Germany, which lowered it last month, and in Rwanda, where it was eliminated altogether earlier this week. The United States is pushing forward as well. Thirty-two states have taken up the issue over the past four years, and seven succeeded in permanently eliminating the tampon tax: Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Nevada and Rhode Island. (California will start exempting menstrual products, too — but only temporarily, for the duration of the state’s upcoming two-year budget.)

The Utah Legislature’s decision to finally tackle the the tax acknowledges another critical point: Neither Utah, nor any other state, wants to bear the expense of defending what amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination. A sales tax on menstrual products is not just inequitable; it is unconstitutional and illegal. A national coalition called Tax Free. Period. has put states on notice: Be prepared to defend in court laws and regulations that impose a discriminatory tax, or proactively change these laws.

Even in a state that ranks as poorly as Utah does for women, leaders have taken action. So thank you — to the lawmakers who first introduced these bills years ago, as well as to those who cast aside politics to finally get it across the finish line.

And to the remaining states that still tax our tampons? Utah has shown the nation that it can be done. It’s time to follow our lead.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf is cofounder of Period Equity and author of “Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity.” She is an attorney and vice president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

Emily Bell McCormick

Emily Bell McCormick is the owner of a boutique communication and advocacy consulting firm and founder of The Policy Project, a group working to implement healthy policy in Utah and the U.S.