Diapers.jpg (copy)

After seeing his proposed constitutional amendment to repeal the state sales tax on diapers and feminine hygiene products fail to garner the two-thirds vote of the Senate needed to pass, state Sen. JP Morrell made a last-minute change and won approval for a state law to abolish the tax.

Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat, has brought the effort to repeal the sales tax on products like diapers and tampons for several years. Earlier in the evening Wednesday, his Senate Bill 4 to change the state constitution to exempt the products from sales tax narrowly failed to get the 26 votes needed, with a 21-12 vote.

But after amending a companion measure, Senate Bill 5, to turn it into a statutory change, rather than a constitutional one, Morrell won approval from the Senate on a 29-5 vote.

“I still hold that diapers and feminine hygiene products are the same as prescription drugs,” which are exempt from sales taxes by the state Constitution, Morrell said. “At the end of the day, the people need relief. Sometimes you need to compromise to get people what they need.”

The original legislation would have put to the public vote the question of whether to repeal the tax on the products, which if successful would have put the exemption in the state Constitution. Several Republicans voted against the bill, citing a $10 million price tag.

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, argued the savings would not be significant for families, calling it “not a game changer.” That drew a fiery response from Morrell, who argued poor families were hurting and needed all the help they can get, and calling out what he said was hypocrisy by lawmakers voting against another bill of his to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment because they thought it would strike down anti-abortion laws.

In recent years, the Senate Finance Committee, which reviews bills that cost the state money, has repeatedly rejected Morrell’s proposal legislation as the state dealt with budget crises. But this year, as the state finds itself with a rare surplus, the panel passed the bill on a 6-3 vote. The legislation has an estimated price tag of about $10 million, but Morrell conceded that may be low-balling it.

Morrell has argued tampons and diapers should at least be on the same playing field as Viagra, the male sexual enhancement drug, which is exempt from sales taxes.


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.