Language in bid to exempt feminine hygiene products from Arkansas sales tax rejected by state Attorney General Tim Griffin

AG says offered definition conflicts with higher tax law

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin addresses the media Feb. 17 during a press conference in Little Rock. (File Photo/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Attorney General Tim Griffin rejected ballot language Monday for a proposed initiative to exempt feminine hygiene products from Arkansas' sales and use tax.

The proposed initiated act is an attempt by the Arkansas Period Poverty Project to make tampons and other feminine hygiene products more accessible to women. In a letter to attorney David Couch, who represents the group behind the effort, Griffin said he rejected language for the proposal "due to ambiguities in the text of your proposal."

The language of the initiative submitted to the Attorney General's Office reads: "An act to exempt feminine hygiene products from sales and use tax effective January 1, 2024. Defining 'feminine hygiene products' as tampons, panty liners, menstrual cups, sanitary napkins, and other similar tangible personal property designed for feminine hygiene in connection with the human menstrual cycle."

The Republican Attorney General rejected the language saying it is unclear whether grooming products such as soap, shampoo and toothpaste, would also be exempt from the sales and use tax if the initiated act were to pass.

Arkansas is part of the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board, a coalition of states that work together to simplify their sales taxes. The group's definition for feminine hygiene product mirrors the definition used in the proposed initiative, however it clarifies that grooming products are not included in the definition. Griffin said the difference in definition would bring Arkansas into conflict with its multi-state sales tax agreement.

"This difference between your proposed definition and the product definition under the Streamlined Agreement raises the question whether your proposed measure means to include 'grooming and hygiene products'--thereby removing Arkansas from compliance with the compact, or whether you mean for Arkansas to remain compliant with the Streamlined Agreement, in which case your definition should mirror the product definition found in the Streamlined Agreement," Griffin wrote.

In response, Couch said he was surprised by Griffin's rejection and that he plans to resubmit his proposal after conferring with his clients.

"I mean, it defines exactly what is exempt from sales tax," Couch said. "It was really simple and [Griffin] is the one making it more complex."

Under Article 5, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution, citizens have the right to change the law through an initiated act or constitutional amendment. Initiated acts, unlike constitutional amendments, can be changed with a two-thirds vote by the General Assembly. To make the ballot, an initiated act needs signatures from 8% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, which would be 71,321 signatures.

However, under a new state law, Act 194, the Attorney General must first approve ballot language for an initiative or referendum before citizens begin to collect signatures. The Attorney General has 10 business days to review ballot language before accepting it, rejecting it or rewriting it.

The Arkansas Period Poverty Project, founded in 2018, says on its website that its mission is "to end period poverty and promote menstrual equity through donations, education, and legislation."

According to the Alliance for Period Supplies, Arkansas is one of 21 states that tax feminine hygiene products. In June, Texas became the latest state to exempt period products from sales tax according to the group.

Information for this article was contributed by former Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Will Langhorne.