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LINCOLN--A bill introduced by Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha could make an unpleasant time of month a little more bearable for women across Nebraska.

Legislative Bill 798 would eliminate taxes for women buying feminine hygiene products like tampons, pads and menstrual cups. The Legislature's Revenue Committee held a hearing on the bill late in February. 

"Feminine hygiene products deserve tax exemption because they serve a biological need," McDonnell said during his opening remarks.

Bobby Larsen, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior from Papillion, helped do research for the bill during an internship with McDonnell last year. He said the experience made him more aware of the growing national trend to re-categorize tampons and pads as necessities, not luxuries.

"Nebraska needs a law like this because food, medical products -- all that stuff is already exempt because they're viewed as necessities," Larsen said. "Given that menstrual products are used by hundreds of thousands of people in the state, it just makes sense."

During his research, Larsen found eight states have already passed legislation exempting menstrual products from taxes. Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania all have "tampon tax" laws in place.

Larsen noted the varying political leanings of the states that have found success with the idea. He said California, a state known for its liberal tendencies, failed to pass the bill because lawmakers bundled it with diaper tax exemptions.

By comparing the average price of tampons in California and Nebraska, Larsen estimated Nebraska would lose about $800,000 in revenue by making tampons tax-free.

The hearing was short. No one spoke for or against the bill, though Revenue Committee chair Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion noted the ACLU of Nebraska contacted the committee to indicate its support.

Megan Mikolajczyk, associate general counsel for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, spoke in supportive neutrality of LB 798.

"Period products are not luxury items," Mikolajczyk said. "They are necessities for women of childbearing age."

Lillie Cox, a fellow at the OpenSky Policy Institute in Lincoln, also spoke neutrally on the bill. She said menstrual products are more qualified to be tax-exempt than current tax-exempt products in Nebraska.

"It is nonsensical that we have tax exemptions for candy and soda but not for tampons," Cox said.

Cox's said her neutral stance hinged on the idea that Nebraska needs a complete tax overhaul. A "piecemeal approach," as she said, wouldn't solve much.

"Is a quarter saved each month on tampons really a victory for gender equality?" Mikolajczyk asked.

Yes, she said, calling the idea "another step in equaling the playing field for women."

"Our state motto is 'equality before the law,'" Larsen said. "This is a good way to put equality out there."

Contact Nathan Hittle at nns.nhittle@gmail.com

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