Starting on Thursday, July 1, buying a box of tampons or pads in Vermont will be a slightly less costly proposition.
That's when Act 73 goes into effect. It exempts tampons, sanitary napkins, panty liners and menstrual cups from the state’s 6 percent sales tax.
“Being able to use our taxation system as a means to promote equity, I think, is incredibly important and powerful,” said Sen. Ruth Hardy (D-Addison), who sponsored the bill. Hardy said that the law supports gender and economic equity, as well as age equity: those who have the hardest time affording menstrual products are often younger.
Cary Brown, executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women, was part of a group of eight organizations, including the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Planned Parenthood and Vermont Works for Women, that advocated passage of the bill.
“This particular tax was something that hit a particular category of people and not others,” Brown said. “I think that there was a sense that we can do better than that now. Our tax policy can be better and fairer than that.”
Though the 6 percent tax may seem nominal for some, "every little bit of money counts" for people struggling to make ends meet, Brown added.
With the law in effect, the state will lose out on about $685,000 in tax revenue next fiscal year.
Hardy said the exemption is an acknowledgment by the state that it is important to use public policy to ensure more equitable access to crucial supplies for people who menstruate.
According to the Vermont Department of Taxes, clothing — including garter belts, girdles and athletic supporters — is not taxed. Medical supplies, such as disposable heating pads and bandages, and over-the-counter drugs, such as laxatives, acne medication and throat lozenges, are also exempt.
The local policy change is part of a larger national movement that has been gaining steam in recent years. It aims to address both sex-based discrimination and "period poverty," or the lack of access to menstrual products because of financial reasons.
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf and Laura Strausfeld are at the forefront of that movement. The New York lawyers founded Period Equity, a legal organization committed to making menstrual products safe, accessible and affordable.
In 2015, Weiss-Wolf, in partnership with Cosmopolitan magazine, launched a national petition challenging the so-called "tampon tax." At that time, she said in an interview this week, “there were no lawmakers or legislatures thinking about menstruation in any way.”
In 2016, Period Equity spearheaded a class-action lawsuit against the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, asserting that a tax on menstrual products violated the equal protection clauses of both the U.S. and New York constitutions.
Five months later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to eliminate the tax, and the lawsuit was dismissed. Period Equity filed a similar suit last summer in Michigan; it's still pending.
Since Period Equity's campaign began, "there has been a very, very steady stream of menstrual access and affordability legislation that has passed,” Weiss-Wolf said. "It’s still far from utopia, but when you think about the arc of legislative and political and social change … that’s almost unheard of in the American political story.”
Twelve states, plus Washington, D.C., and the cities of Chicago and Denver, have passed laws exempting menstrual products from sales tax — though 28 states still impose it.
In Vermont, Rep. George Till (D-Jericho), an obstetrician-gynecologist, first introduced a bill to repeal the sales tax on menstrual products in 2019, but it didn’t make it out of committee. This legislative session, Hardy and Sen. Chris Pearson (P/D-Chittenden) were cosponsors of the bill.
"Progressive, feminist men" in Vermont's legislature helped get it done, Strausfeld said, citing Pearson and Till.
In June, Gov. Phil Scott also signed Act 66, which requires public and independent schools to provide free menstrual products to students ages 8 and up in bathrooms and school nurse’s offices. That mandate takes effect during the 2022-2023 school year.
Weiss-Wolf called legislation around menstrual products a path to thinking more broadly about gender equity and representation.
"Menstruation is a bit of a poster child about what else we may be missing when it comes to equity and equality in our laws," she said.