Rhode Island legislators reach compromise on the tampon tax

For the fourth year in a row, Rhode Island legislators debated the “tampon tax” — that is, whether menstrual products should be sales tax-exempt. Odds are that at least some of them enjoy untaxed golf club memberships on the weekends.

State Senator Louis DiPalma and Representative Edith Ajello introduced sister bills in the House and Senate on February 6th, 2019, SB 0049 and HB 5307, each of which would exempt menstrual products from the sales and use taxes. DiPalma and Ajello have introduced those bills every year since 2016 — with no success until now.

Both bills wound their way slowly through the process this year. While legislators appeared supportive in theory, many still backtracked when it comes to the $650,000 hit to general revenues. The status quo must not continue to be that women and menstruating people solely bear that burden.

Finally, a compromise has been reached. Senator DiPalma added a proposal to the state budget that would make menstrual products exempt from sales tax, and both the House and the Senate approved the budget.

In the budget signed by Governor Gina Raimondo, the tax exemption for menstrual products will now take effect on October 1, 2019. According to Representative Ajello, the tax-exempt status will carry over to future budgets — and will not expire or require new action like other parts of the budget. She added that it is unlikely that there will be an effort to undo the exemption in coming years.

Diandra Kalish, a menstrual health advocate and Social Studies teacher in Rhode Island said, “I was frankly shocked to learn that when I went to testify over the past few months it was the fourth year that these bills had been up. I would prefer that they made a law exempting it [the tax] for sure, because this [the budget] is not ensuring that at some point these products wouldn't be subject to tax again.” Kalish went on to say that perhaps the budget bill is a way to make progress while the original bills are stuck.

We at Tax Free. Period. celebrate this victory in Rhode Island. But we also believe that the tax-exempt status of menstrual products must be fully enshrined into law. A budget line can ebb and flow at the whim of the state's leadership or in light of its fiscal health. The tampon tax is state-sanctioned discrimination that needs to be permanently eradicated in all 50 states.

Live in Rhode Island? Want to make your voice heard? Contact the decision makers and tell them how you feel about the tax on menstrual products. Send your emails directly to Representative Marvin Abney at rep-abney@rilegislature.gov and Senator William Conley, Jr. at sen-conley@rilegislature.gov.

— Sarah Corning, Period Equity