Denise "Mitzi" Epstein

A Tempe legislator who represents Ahwatukee tangled with a Chandler lawmaker last week before a House panel voted – but just barely – to give feminine hygiene products and diapers the same tax treatment as Lottery tickets, Viagra, tourist magazines, college textbooks and farm animals sold for breeding.

Put simply, these items, like the others, would be exempt from the state sales tax and buyers would not have to pay an extra 5.6 percent of the purchase price to the state.

The 5-4 vote on HB 2217, with only Republicans opposed, followed testimony from Ashley Ware, who told members of the Ways and Means Committee about living in a home with eight women and times when her mother could not afford to buy tampons before payday. And part of the cost, she said, is that state sales tax.

“Those nickels and dimes to me and my family for eight women could have been another meal or a box of tampons before payday,’’ she testified.

Daniel Moxley, executive director of the Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona, told lawmakers that about a third of all mothers struggle to keep their children in clean diapers, what with the average baby using anywhere from eight to 12 a day. He said a nearly identical number report reusing a disposable diaper.

“You can see the health risks there,’’ Moxley said.

Diane Post, lobbyist for the National Organization for Women, said the tax also affects the elderly who have to buy incontinence products, which also would become tax exempt, allowing them to “live a dignified life.’’ Post also pegged the lifetime cost to women for menstrual products at about $20,000.

But the proposal ran into opposition from several Republicans who questioned whether the state can live without the estimated $7 million a year that the levy generates. Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, said he would prefer the dollars go to teacher pay.

And it drew a stinging rebuke from Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, who objected to being asked by Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, whether he values giving a financial break to women, the elderly and babies.

“This is where I don’t like the politics of how these things get is insinuations that you don’t care for babies or individuals depending on what side of the issue you’re on,’’ he said. “That’s somewhat offensive that there’s this litmus test that if you have some kind of a philosophical disagreement that somehow you don’t care for babies or the elderly or something.’’

But Weninger, in the end, agreed to vote for the measure on the condition that Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, the sponsor, amend the measure to also prohibit cities from imposing their own local sales tax levy on the same items.

The other Republican agreeing to support the measure was Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita of Scottsdale.

She echoed Weninger’s comments that the legislation is not a reflection of whether lawmakers care about babies, women and the elderly, saying the issue is simpler than that.

“These are necessities in life,’’ Ugenti-Rita said. “And the dollar amounts do add up.

A similar measure cleared the same panel last year only to be killed in the House Health Committee. This new version now goes to that same committee and could face the same fate there.

Hernandez did agree to one change he said might blunt some opposition: The tax break would expire automatically at the end of 2026 unless renewed.

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