Democratic State Representative Melissa Sargent of Madison has tried for years to create certain exceptions under Wisconsin’s sales and use tax for products such as diapers, undergarments for incontinence, and feminine hygiene products.
Yesterday, Sargent re-introduced bills from previous years as a combined piece of legislation, this time with more bipartisan support.
“This is exciting for a number of different reasons, but I think something to note is that we have a bipartisan group of legislators that are committed to working together to move this policy forward,” says Sargent.
When these pieces of legislation were introduced in 2018, the Department of Revenue estimated that they would decrease sales tax collections by over $14 million combined each year.
But, Sargent thinks these losses will be offset by the social good of welcoming those who need these products back into public life.
“We know that people who menstruate and families with infants and people who depend on incontinence products ultimately want and need to be part of our society, and that shouldn’t hold people back from being able to go to school or go to work or be able to recreate in our communities,” Sargent notes.
“So, in my opinion, it’s really important for us to realize that the small amount in revenue as far as this tax base [goes] will certainly be gained in having people back out in society and making sure that we are doing the right thing for the public health of the people in the state of Wisconsin.”
A study from Reuters Health last January found that 2 out of 3 people living below the poverty line have experienced being without menstrual products due to cost.
According to one co-sponsor, the bill may also bring economic benefits to the state.
Republican Representative Scott Krug of Nekoosa helped introduce the legislation in 2017 and 2018. As the leader of Wisconsin’s Paper Caucus, he says the exemption could prompt paper mills in Wisconsin to expand.
“It’s fair to say that with some of these mills trying to stay open they’re looking for new markets to expand into, and with the change over from plastics back to paper, it’s been a really important thing for their research and development companies to understand what applications are out there for them to take advantage of,” Krug says.
“The production of incontinence products and the production of diaper fiber from wood products in central Wisconsin is something that’s a realistic market opportunity for them.”
Republican Senator Andre Jacque of DePere co-sponsored the exemption for diapers in 2018 as a member of the Assembly, but not the exemption for feminine hygiene products.
Jacque is the first Republican State Senator to support this type of legislation since it was first introduced in 2016. He says the bill properly categorizes these products as necessities.
“I don’t know that this was necessarily something that was intentionally put into the state tax code, but I think as we have started to look at categorizing things appropriately, that’s what we’re looking to do now in terms of making sure we recognize feminine hygiene products and adult incontinence [ products ] and diapers as really being the necessities that they are,” says Jacque.
In their press release, lawmakers use the term “people who menstruate” instead of “women” to refer to those who use tampons and other hygiene products.
Representative Sargent says that this inclusive language is an important aspect of the legislation.
“I know that menstruation isn’t something that just happens to women, and it is very important to me that I and that we as a society make sure that we use inclusive language when we are talking about access to menstrual products, removing tax from menstrual products, providing access to changing stations for adults who may need [that] access and in men’s bathrooms as well,” says Sargent.
Representative Krug says the gender-inclusive language wasn’t necessarily his intent, but he wouldn’t expect that language to be altered if and when the bill moves through the legislature.
“I think in 2020 now I don’t think there’s many people in the legislation that are going to object to certain sentences in press releases, and I don’t think there’s any consternation by anybody in the legislature to understand that things are a little bit different than [what] we’ve experienced in the past and that we just need to adapt,” Krug says.
The bills are slated to be introduced to the state Assembly and Senate this session.
Representative Sargent has pushed for greater access to free menstrual products in other ways as well.
In 2015, Sargent introduced a bill to make menstrual products available for free in state governmental buildings. That bill didn’t pass. But last month, free menstrual products were put in all State Buildings after a mandate from Governor Evers.