ATLANTA — Proponents of a bill that would exempt feminine hygiene products from the state sales tax say it’s time to have what may be an awkward conversation for the majority male General Assembly.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, would add tampons, sanitary pads, menstrual cups and other products to the list of items that are not taxed at the cash register.

Buckner argues that since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long since deemed feminine hygiene products to be medical devices, they should have been included when lawmakers removed the state sales tax from groceries and certain medical products in the late 1990s.

“I do hope you’ll give it thoughtful consideration because it is a message to the women of Georgia that somebody is listening,” Buckner said to lawmakers at a committee meeting this week.

“And it’s also a fairness issue,” she added. “Generally speaking, women do not make as much as men, and this is not an optional expense.”

The push comes as the “Me Too” movement has brought heightened awareness to women’s issues. Buckner and others say talk of exempting feminine hygiene products from the state’s 4-percent sales tax pre-dates the national headlines, but that the timing helps.

“If there’s a climate to talk about issues impacting women, this is that climate,” Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna, said this week after advocating for the proposal from the House floor.

The measure faces long odds for this year, though. It still sits in the Ways and Means Committee with less than two weeks till Crossover Day, which is the deadline for a bill to pass out of one chamber to have the easiest path to becoming a law.

“I object to the characterization that the medical exemption skipped this because if we’re doing that, then it skipped a lot of things,” Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta said at a recent committee meeting.

Rather, Martin said that medical devices requiring a prescription were included when lawmakers removed the sales state on groceries two decades ago. A few exceptions have been made, though, including insulin syringes and blood glucose level measuring strips.

“My guess is that the reason this was omitted however many years ago is because there were a bunch of old men who didn’t want to talk about feminine hygiene products,” said Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who is also a sponsor of the bill.

“It begs for common sense,” Peake said of the proposal.

If passed, the proposal would cost the state more than $8 million next year, according to a report from state budget analysts. It’s estimated there are about 3.1 million Georgia women who need the products, likely spending about $63 every year.

The benefit of the tax break would be small for women, saving them a little more than a quarter on a box of $7 tampons. But a petition — which has attracted nearly 800 signatures — argues that the state tax just makes it that much harder for low-income Georgians to afford an essential health care item.

“This may seem like a small and meaningless battle to some, but for many women struggling to make ends meet, the cost of these necessary items is a huge burden and every cent saved on these products matters,” the petition says.

The proposal has the backing of Junior League chapters in Georgia, a group called Georgia Women (And Those Who Stand With Us) that grew out of the Women’s March on Washington in early 2017 and others. It also has co-signers from both political parties.

Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.

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