State lawmakers seeking to eliminate ‘tampon tax’

The South Carolina Statehouse

COLUMBIA — South Carolina lawmakers are considering targeting taxes that single out women’s health care needs, with tampons being first on the list.

A male legislator in the House of Representatives said the playing field has become so unfair that it’s time the state provide the feminine hygiene product for free in all state buildings.

“A menstrual cycle is a basic bodily function,” Kingstree Democrat Cezar McKnight said. “We provide for all the other bodily functions, why not this one?”

McKnight said that while no proposal to remove the so-called luxury tax from tampon sales have been filed in the Legislature as of yet, he would support such an effort.

Members of the Women’s House Caucus are talking about introducing such a bill soon that would remove feminine products from a list of items the state taxes because they are considered a retail luxury — an issue that recently has gained national attention for its gender-need disparity.

In the meantime, McKnight introduced legislation this week that would provide free feminine products in the bathrooms of all state-owned buildings. He didn’t know the specific cost of such a provision but said it would be minimal.

“We’re not talking about top-of-the-line products,” McKnight said. “It’s the same with toilet paper. We’re not putting Charmin in state bathrooms. It would be generic.”

Ashley Crary, associate director of government relations with the S.C. Coalition for Healthy Families, said she was glad to hear of McKnight’s push and hoped a bill declaring feminine products a necessity is introduced soon.

“It’s great that legislators recognize that a woman’s menstrual cycle is not just a ‘luxury’ that we receive every month,” she said.

Crary said she finds it ridiculous that candy and soda are not taxed in South Carolina while feminine products are. She said figures show South Carolina women spend $7.2 million each year in luxury taxes.

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“If you look when you go to the grocery store, food isn’t taxed because it’s considered a necessity,” she said. “But skipping my period for the month if I don’t have the money to pay for it isn’t an option I have.”

Crary was at the Statehouse on Wednesday as part of a women’s-rights day coordinated by Tell Them SC, a group that advocates for women’s health and sexual education. Speakers, including Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, stressed the need for more women in political office.

“We need to get off our bottoms and get engaged and get involved,” she said. “What I am hoping is that we will have women in this state to sign to offer to run for office — state, local and federal — women make a difference. It matters who is in office. It matters when women are not represented.”

Some lawmakers contend that because there are so few women serving, the issues most often addressed in Columbia tend to benefit men. Women make up 24 of the 170 members of the General Assembly, which translates to 22 in the House and two in the Senate.

“We have been working in the vineyards for a very long time, it’s time for us to come out of the vineyards, enjoy the fruits of our labor, have a little vino, sign up and get engaged,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.