Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Romano: State laws add to the cost of being a woman in Florida

Carlee Wendell is a 23-year-old woman from Tampa who founded the non-profit For the Love of Woman (FLOW) that provides feminine hygiene to homeless shelters. Wendell has initiated a class action lawsuit that seeks to overturn sales taxes (and seeks refunds) on feminine hygiene products. Courtesy of Carlee Wendell
Published Jul. 18, 2016

Depending on your point of view, this is a story about money. Or politics. Or feminine hygiene products.

And the truth is, it involves all of those and maybe a few others. But at its core, this is about something simpler.

This is a story about injustice.

And it begins with a lone, 23-year-old woman from Tampa running a nonprofit organization that tries to get feminine hygiene products into domestic violence and homeless shelters.

Carlee Wendell created For The Love of Women last fall after seeing a Facebook post about tampons being handed out to homeless women.

In the course of her research, she made a disconcerting discovery:

Feminine hygiene products are subject to sales tax in Florida.

Bunion pads aren't. Neither are lip balms, wart removers or a male pattern baldness treatment. And yet tampons and sanitary pads are taxed.

In the broadest sense, the state taxes anything considered a luxury. Which means Florida appears to consider a menstrual cycle as voluntary.

"I don't take gender inequality and injustice very lightly,'' Wendell said from her attorney's office Friday.

"And this amounts to me having to pay the government every month for having my period.''

So Wendell has initiated a class-action lawsuit that seeks to repeal the state's tax on feminine hygiene products, as well as refund money to anyone who has purchased products in the past three years.

The state's stance is not unusual. And, as it turns out, neither is the lawsuit. Forty states have been taxing women's products, although a half-dozen are in various stages of repeal. Lawsuits also began popping up after a column in Cosmopolitan magazine shed a greater light on the issue.

There's even a chance the law could change in Florida ahead of Wendell's lawsuit. State Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, instructed Senate staff to begin drafting a bill after his office received hundreds of complaints this spring.

"When we first started receiving the emails, I think the senator was surprised,'' said Rachel Perrin Rogers, the chief legislative assistant in Simpson's office. "He said, 'I didn't even know they were taxed. That doesn't make any sense.' ''

A preliminary study by Senate finance staff indicates a repeal could cost the state as much as $15 million annually. And that means the lawsuit could generate tens of millions in refunds if successful. The suit currently asks for refunds from retailers such as Target, Walgreens, CVS and Walmart, which would then seek relief from the state.

Even if the state makes changes to the tax laws, attorney Dana Brooks Cooper said the class action suit will go forward to seek refunds.

"I don't think they'll have trouble getting it passed because the current situation is indefensible,'' said Brooks Cooper, of the firm Barrett, Fasig & Brooks of Tallahassee. "We're talking about a substantial amount of money that women have already paid.''

Changing the law and pursuing refunds are the obvious goals of the lawsuit, but Wendell says it's also important to point out the institutionalized inequality involved.

"People aren't comfortable discussing periods, and I understand that,'' she said. "But these products are medically necessary and it's insulting to women to say they're not.''

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. On the left, NASA graphic of space junk in low Earth orbit. On the right, the view from further out. (NASA ODPO) NASA ODPO
    The U.S. Defense Department is tracking over 22,000 objects about the size of a softball or larger.
  2. 3 hours ago• Hillsborough
    U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R- Dover, when he served in the Florida House in 2017, SCOTT KEELER  |  Times
    Spano has become a vociferous Trump defender and is comparing the investigation of his own 2018 campaign financing to the impeachment, which he calls a partisan sham.
  3. United States Air Force veteran Daniel Carmichael, of Inverness, shares his opinion before a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners of Citrus County on Tuesday, November 19, 2019, at the Citrus County Courthouse in Inverness, where the Citrus County Commission is expected to render a decision on whether to get digital subscriptions for the New York Times for all 70,000 of the county library cardholders. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes
    After two hours of debate, a motion to move forward with digital subscriptions for library cardholders fails 3-2.
  4. Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at pre-legislative news conference on Tuesday Oct. 29, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    He’s got a new voucher proposal, as well.
  5. FILE - This March 28, 2017, file photo, provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry, shows Jeffrey Epstein. Two correctional officers responsible for guarding Jeffrey Epstein the night before he took his own life are expected to face criminal charges this week for falsifying prison records. That’s according to two people familiar with the matter. The federal charges could come as soon as Tuesday and are the first in connection with Epstein’s death.. (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP, File) AP
    “The FBI is involved and they are looking at criminal enterprise, yes,” said the nation’s top prisons administrator to Senators on Tuesday.
  6. The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts illuminated its new sign for the first time on Dec. 6, 2010. Times (2010)
    The historic donation that renamed the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center is still impacting Tampa Bay’s arts community.
  7. In this Thursday, Aug. 1, file photo, Amanda Kondrat'yev, the woman accused of throwing a sports drink at U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz in June outside a town hall meeting, arrives at Winston Arnow Federal Court House in Pensacola, Fla. Kondrat'yev has been sentenced to 15 days in federal custody for throwing the sports drink at Gaetz. TONY GIBERSON  |  AP
    Amanda Kondrat’yev pleaded guilty to assault in August and had faced up to a year in jail.
  8. On the issue of whether to retroactively apply changes in Florida’s sentencing laws to inmates currently in prison, Gov. Ron DeSantis says he prefers to deal with cases using the clemency process. STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    Hundreds of Florida inmates are serving sentences no longer in state law, according to new research.
  9. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing $1 billion in increased teacher pay as part of a $91.4 billion state budget he put forward on Monday. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    The Florida governor also wants to hire hundreds of new corrections officers and spend $1.4 billion on hurricane recovery.
  10. FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2019, file photo, Donald Trump Jr. speaks before the arrival of President Donald Trump at a campaign rally at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) JOHN MINCHILLO  |  AP
    University of Florida student body president Michael Murphy received a resolution for his impeachment Tuesday. Then the state’s Republican Party started an online petition and fundraiser.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement