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Tax or no tax? Wisconsin bills seek to eliminate sales tax on diapers and feminine hygiene products

WAUKESHA -- Diapers can be a huge financial drain. Now, a group of bipartisan lawmakers wants to make them more affordable but the state has to absorb the cost.

At the Women's Center in Waukesha, diapers are in high-demand. Director Angela Mancuso says some families consider diapers a luxury item.

"A lot of families in need will go to great lengths to try to prolong their supplies," Mancuso said. "We'll provide our clients in the shelter with just about anything they need."

State Representative Melissa Sargent of Madison and State Representative Scott Krug of Nekoosa have introduced two separate bils that propose lifting the sales tax on diapers and feminine hygeine products.

A newly introduced bill -- AB856 -- could lessen the financial burden.

"I don't even want to begin to add up how much money we spent on diapers," said State Representative Melissa Sargent of Madison.

The Democrat and mother of four along with Republican and father of six State Representative Scott Krug of Nekoosa want to lift the state sales tax on diapers.

"I understand, as the parent of young kids, that diapers are expensive," Krug said.

In a separate bill --  AB683 -- they've also proposed a tax exemption for all feminine hygiene products.

"It will not cause our state to go bankrupt. We can absolutely afford to do this," Sargent said.

In Wisconsin, the sales tax for diapers and feminine hygiene products is about 5%.

Lifting the tax on items like tampons and pads would cost the state an estimated $2.4 million annually.

A fiscal estimate for exempting diapers has yet to be released.

"It's a public health issue quite frankly," Sargent said.

Sargent has tried to pass a sale tax exemption for feminine hygiene products before calling it a "Pink Tax" that only women have to pay.

"In order to level that playing field, I think it's important that we remove the tax," said Sargent.

"This is simply a fairness issue," echoed Krug.

Krug says a deciding factor for him was support in Wisconsin's paper industry.

"With the decline of the paper company, manufacturing in the state of Wisconsin, they're looking at getting into other fiber products," Krug said.

Nicole Kaeding of the Tax Foundation says states should be leery of sale tax exemptions.

"Providing these sort of one-off exemptions for things like feminine hygiene products, or groceries, or prescription drugs, sounds good in political rhetoric but it narrows your sales tax base," Kaeding said. "I do think we're at the beginning of a trend, I think states will continue to experiment with this approach."

Right now, 13 states plus the District of Columbia have no sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

Of those, five have no general sales tax at all. 12 states have no sales tax on baby diapers.

Some states categorize the items as medical devices or necessities, but Kaeding points to other items you may consider necessary that are taxed in Wisconsin.

"This is no different than a shampoo tax, or a toilet paper tax, or a tax on a bar of soap," Kaeding pointed out.

Angela Mancuso the director at the Woman's Center in Waukesha discusses the "diaper tax" with Contact 6's Jenna Sachs.

Tax or no tax, the Women's Center in Waukesha will continue to help and offer relief for families in need.

"We just want to make their lives that much easier by providing these items for free," Mancuso said.

Last year, 15 states considered bills that would eliminate or reduce sales tax on both children and adult diapers. Within the last couple of years, 15 to 20 states have considered exempting feminine hygiene products.

The bills exempting diapers and feminine hygiene products from the sales tax are still in the early stages.  Both Sargent and Krug say bipartisan support could make a difference this time around. They ask people to contact their lawmakers to let them know how they feel about the issue.