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New ballot initiative aims to end Arkansas’ “tampon tax”

LA Johnson
/
NPR
A group called the The Arkansas Period Poverty Project is working to end the "tampon tax" in Arkansas.

An organization in Arkansas is trying to end a statewide tax on menstrual hygiene products. The Arkansas Period Poverty Project aims to put an amendment on the ballot in 2024. The proposed ballot title would exempt period products, like pads or tampons, from sales tax.

Katie Clark founded the Arkansas Period Poverty Project in 2018. Clark became passionate about period equity after she read a book called "Period Power" by Nadya Okamoto. The book talks about the financial barriers many people face trying to acquire tampons and pads.

“If you do not have enough product or the right kind of product to manage your period you have to stay home to deal with it,” Clark said. “We should all have access to toilet paper. So why don't we have equal access to period products?”

According to the Bureau of Legislative Research, statewide, menstruating people spend over $1 million on just the period product tax itself. This means repealing the tax would save consumers money, but would also cause the state to miss out on some revenue.

This information comes from a report the bureau wrote after the Arkansas Period Poverty Project attempted to end the tax through the legislative process.

During the Arkansas Legislature's 2021 general session, project members worked with Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Denise Ennett, D-Little Rock, to craft a bill ending the tax. HB1065 died in committee, because the legislature adjourned too soon move through the entire process.

Another law about menstruation, Act 933 passed in 2021. This law allows schools to use existing funding to provide menstrual products to their students.

Clark says some people are more receptive to talking about the tax than others.

“The male population, if they don't have daughters tend to be a little standoffish,” she said.

The Arkansas Period Poverty Project decided to try for a “tampon tax” ban in the form of a ballot initiative. They submitted the ballot title to Attorney General Tim Griffin, but failed initially. He said the ballot title language was too vague in using the term “hygiene products.”

“Maybe I was blindly hopeful,” Clark said.

In response, the group created a second draft of the bill. The new ballot title is more specific including personal cleaning products like shampoo and anti-perspirant. Clark was excited to expand the list of items exempted from the tax.

“I feel so strongly about this, that I will go through 15 iterations of this if I have to.”

The attorney general has not yet said if he will reject the ballot title currently proposed.

Even if it is approved, the group still has a long road ahead. They will need to collect over 70,000 signatures from people across the state to get “tampon tax ban” on ballot for 2024.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Period Poverty Project continues to work toward menstrual equity in other ways. The group purchases “period packs” for schools containing enough products for one cycle.

“We have so many schools in our state that are constantly requesting products from us,” Clark said.

She also tries to use social media to educate women and girls about period pain.

“It's not normal if you're passing out or your missing school. We want to let young people know when you reach that point of pain, who should you talk to.”

The measure will need to then pass by a majority vote before it can go into effect in 2025.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.