WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina
Many high schoolers — probably most, in fact — spend more time and energy worrying about their hair than about state tax rates.
Sarina Horner, however, isn’t like most high schoolers. Organized and persistent, this 17-year-old tends to take a long-term view when tackling big-picture issues rather than, say, sweating a lunch menu or jersey choice.
That’s why, between waiting for college acceptance letters, she spent a good chunk of her time collecting more than 17,000 signatures on a petition to change the way the state taxes produce. feminine hygiene products – North Carolina considers them “non-essential” or luxury items. — and pressure lawmakers to keep going.
“I think (lawmakers) are definitely taking it seriously,” Horner said. “This movement is sweeping the whole country. It’s such an easy thing to do.
DEEPEN THE DETAILS
Taxing the goods needed by half the population as a “luxury” probably only makes sense for the half of the population who either don’t need them or pretend they don’t exist.
(State sales tax, in case you weren’t reading the receipts, is 4.75% and can go up to 7.5% in cities with additional taxes.)
But as these things happen in Raleigh, as in all other state capitals, the tax decisions are largely made by men. More older guys.
“People who menstruate know that menstrual hygiene products aren’t useless,” Horner wrote in an introduction to her online petition. “Menstrual cycles are natural bodily functions, and products that help menstruating women safely and comfortably participate in daily life should not be treated as luxury items.”
North Carolina is far from alone in taxing these hygiene products in the same way as shampoo, soap or deodorant. Twenty-eight other joint flirts do it too.
University studies have shown that up to one in five women cannot afford menstrual hygiene products and that up to 25% of adolescent girls have skipped school because they had no access to these items.
Such statistics are making the rounds — and penetrating — into some states. Since 2015, nine states have enacted sales tax exemptions for feminine hygiene products.
Learning that nugget made Horner realize that making the effort here might not have been a complete waste of time in his senior year.
“I spoke to a girl from Missouri who partnered with an older man, a Republican I think, who helped her reclassify her taxes,” she said. “It can be done.”
Indeed, lawmakers in the State House and Senate introduced bills last fall that would create a state sales tax exemption for feminine hygiene products.
Hons in both houses sent the bills to committee where they were largely ignored.
Yet there is another reason for optimism.
A third bill titled the “End Period Poverty Act” which sought to allocate $250,000 to public school systems to provide free feminine products to financially challenged students, managed to become law when incorporated. in the 628-page budget bill.
Learning more about the problem — and potential solutions — quickly caught (and held) Horner’s attention.
But instead of tweeting or posting a duck-faced Instagram, she got busy trying to move the needle in North Carolina.
BUILD ON EXPERIENCE
Horner put together a slide show, started contacting lawmakers and following up with the legislative aides who do the dirty work drafting bills in Raleigh. One of those aides suggested he start a petition on change.org, a task Horner already knew how to do.
Two years ago, when she discovered the Winston-Salem Transit Authority was only allowing passengers to carry two bags on board — ridiculous for seniors and others who depend on city buses to get to at the grocery store – she also lobbied locals to change that.
The original goal of the petition to end what some call the “tampon tax” was modest: “2,500 to 5,000 is kind of the first landmark of a petition,” Horner said. . “I didn’t expect nearly 17,000.”
(To be precise, that’s 17,640 and counted since Friday afternoon.)
Being an organized and persistent sort, Horner reached out to women’s equity groups on college campuses and law schools. Obviously, it was the smartest decision.
Not that it’s a shock, but Horner has figured out how to pressure lawmakers. The Republicans who control the legislature want to cut taxes, and no one favors punitive or discriminatory taxes.
And even many men in leadership positions have mothers, wives and daughters.
“It’s also an election year,” Horner said, noting the power of the ballot box wielded by women.
Creating an exemption for feminine hygiene products would not be too costly either. Estimates of lost revenue range between $5.5 million and $8.1 million per year, or less than 0.01% of state revenue. That’s not even a rounding error in the $25.9 billion state budget for 2021-22.
It’s only when asked “What’s next?” Horner shows herself as a typical high school girl.
She received a full scholarship to the University of North Carolina, but she is waiting to hear from Wake Forest before deciding. (Note to admissions office: you may wish to prepare a competitive package for this child.)
Beyond that, it’s not too surprising to learn that she’s considering law school, public policy and, heaven forbid, becoming an activist lobbyist.
“It’s definitely a path I’m checking out,” she said. “Public policy interests me, especially after this escapade with the city for two.”