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Menstrual tampons and pads on a blue background

123rf.com/Anna Maslikova

Starting Jan. 1, Germany will take an important step into the 21st century by eliminating its archaic “luxury tax” on feminine hygiene products. Missouri’s male-dominated Legislature apparently prefers to remain mired in an outdated mode of thinking that effectively says women should be taxed simply for being women.

When the 2020 legislative session convenes, lawmakers need to feel the full impact of the women’s vote on this issue. The 4.2% tax Missouri imposes on feminine hygiene products is not just unfair but arguably represents unconstitutional discrimination on the basis of sex.

Missouri sales-tax law makes for bizarre and entertaining reading. Standard taxes of 4.2% apply to most non-food items available for sale to the public. Tampons and menstrual pads are included at that rate, whereas doughnuts and candy receive a preferential rate of 1.2%. The thinking, apparently, is that food is essential to our survival. All other items are non-essential and therefore subject to the higher tax rate. Yet, because of lobbying by various special interests, many non-food items are exempted from the higher tax, such as the clay pigeons used in skeet shooting, bingo supplies or motor oil for ski boats. And, yes, newsprint.

So why can’t menstruating women get a break? Are men in the Legislature somehow under the misimpression that tampons and menstrual pads are non-essential items? The U.S. non-profit group Period Equity reports that women in the United States spend an additional $150 million per year on menstrual products. Those are expenses that men probably don’t see on their grocery or drugstore bills and are likely oblivious to because women aren’t in the habit of drawing attention to such deeply private purchasing needs.

Period Equity says 33 states, including Missouri, impose a tampon tax. Illinois repealed its luxury tax on feminine hygiene products in 2016. In Hawaii, erectile dysfunction pills are tax-free while tampons are taxed. A look at the heavy dominance of men on state legislatures helps explain why such blatant incongruities exist.

Earlier this year, Missouri state Rep. Jim Neely, R-Cameron, garnered bipartisan support for his House Bill 747 to have the lower tax rate apply to feminine hygiene products, diapers and incontinence products. It won committee support but never made it onto the calendar for House debate.

To its credit, the Legislature did approve a measure that gave women prison inmates free access to feminine hygiene products — a major victory upholding the concept of basic human dignity and an acknowledgment that it’s inherently unfair to make women pay for sanitary products when men face no such charge.

For the state, eliminating this tax altogether would cost about two hundredths of a percent of state revenue. The cost of publicly acknowledging respect, dignity and equality for women? Priceless.