Illinois, Cook County lawmakers move to nix ‘tampon tax’

Sophia Bollag, In Focus Editor

Evanston women will likely pay less for tampons and other feminine hygiene products starting next year, but just how much less is now up to state lawmakers.

In Illinois and most other states, feminine hygiene products are subject to a sales tax. The so-called “tampon tax” has drawn criticism from legislators and advocates across the country who argue such products are medically necessary and place an unfair tax burden on women.

Cook County commissioners voted unanimously last week to exempt feminine hygiene products from the county-level sales tax. The exemption will take effect next year, said Keiana Barrett, a spokeswoman for Commissioner Richard Boykin, who co-sponsored the legislation.

Currently, Evanston consumers pay a 10 percent sales tax on tampons and pads. This includes a 1.75 percent county tax — which will be eliminated in January 2017 — a 6.25 percent state tax, a 1 percent Regional Transportation Authority tax and a 1 percent city tax, according to the Illinois Department of Revenue.

State Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake) has introduced legislation that would exempt such products from the state sales tax.

“Other states are already cutting this unnecessary tax,” she said in a statement. “It’s time that Illinois join other states and made sure women weren’t paying a sales tax on something that is medically necessary.”

Like most states, Illinois already exempts certain non-luxury items from its general merchandise sales tax, including most food, medicine and medical appliances. Such items are taxed at a lower rate.

Bush’s proposal was approved by a state Senate committee earlier this month and now awaits a vote by the full Senate. Her office said it anticipates the bill will pass both the state Senate and House before the end of the legislature’s session in May.

Bush’s legislation would also exempt adult incontinence products from the state tax. Illinois State Senate Democrats say Illinois residents spend roughly $14.7 million on feminine hygiene and adult incontinence products annually.

Pennsylvania and Minnesota are among the few states that exempt such products from sales taxes. Lawmakers in Utah voted last month to keep the state’s tampon tax, citing a reluctance to add exemptions to the tax code, according to the Associated Press.

In Evanston, tampons and pads are categorized as general merchandise, subjecting them to the city’s 1 percent sales tax, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said. There has been no discussion in City Council about whether these products should be taxed, Bobkiewicz said.

“It is not an issue that has come up in Evanston, yet,” he said. “I have not heard from any members of the council that this is something they wish to bring up.”

The Chicago City Council voted to exempt its feminine hygiene products from its sales tax earlier this month.

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