SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would eliminate Utah’s sales tax on diapers and feminine hygiene products was struck down by a House committee Wednesday.
The decision was made by a panel of all male lawmakers.
Supporters of HB202 argued that government should treat the products as essential — like food or prescription medications, which are tax exempt in most states.
It’s a perspective that has garnered national momentum, with at least five U.S. states so far choosing to make feminine hygiene products tax exempt.
The bill also sought to create tax exemptions for incontinence products for adults and children — including diapers for infants and toddlers.
"These things are not a luxury. They're a necessity," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna. "Men, women and children all use these products at some point in their lives. Personal hygiene is a right. We're entitled to this."
But the 11-member House panel declined to recommend the bill to the full House with a 3-8 vote, reluctant to see millions in tax dollars slip from the state's annual revenue as a result of the exemption.
If the bill passed, the state would lose more than $1.3 million in tax dollars in 2017, and that dent would increase to more than $1.6 million in 2018, according to estimates from the Utah legislative budget staff.
"We've done a lot of work as a committee to remove exemptions and make it so the tax system is predictable and not subjective variations on what exemptions are and what they are not," said Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, before he voted against the bill.
Duckworth said the exemption could save purchasers of feminine products at least $30 in taxes each year, those who buy diapers at least $50 a year, and those who buy incontinence products more than $80 a year.
"But that savings will most likely be put right back into the economy," she said.
"Fifty dollars a year may not mean much to some of the legislators but it means groceries for a young family or the difference of paying bills on time to someone on a fixed income," Duckworth added. "If you have ever been a parent or cared for one, you know how quickly these expenses can add up. I am simply trying to give people who are doing everything they can for their loved ones a little bit more power for their dollar.”
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, and Reps. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, and Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, voted in favor of the bill.
"I think this is an undo burden for individuals who have this kind of necessity," King said. "
But Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, wondered where the state would draw the line on tax-exempt hygiene products.
"If we go here, what standard to we employ for the next argument?" Ivory asked.
No one spoke in favor or against the bill during Wednesday evening's meeting.
But that afternoon, University of Utah student Lexie Maschoff had about $15 worth of tampons and pads in her shopping cart. She said tax on the products add up, especially for people experiencing poverty.
“I’m lucky enough for it not to be a problem for me, because I’ll still buy them regardless of the price,” Maschoff said, “but I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to choose between food or a tampon. That’s ridiculous.”
Salt Lake City resident MiKelle Poulson said she believes lawmakers should be spending their time considering more important issues.
“I honestly don’t think I would notice” if the tax was removed, she said on her way to purchase a box of tampons. “When I do the math big deal. Great, but big deal.”
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told the Associated Press prior to Wednesday's hearing that Utah's general fund is already thinly divided between costs for Medicaid, transportation, corrections, and health and human services.