Tax exemption passes in Senate bill

BATON ROUGE — After the Senate rejected his bid for a constitutional amendment to exempt diapers and tampons from the state sales tax, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. J.P. Morrell, found another way to get the job done.

Late Wednesday, Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans, changed another bill to do essentially the same thing by statute. That bill passed 29-5.

The main difference, Morrell explained, is that voter approval of a constitutional amendment would have made the tax exemption permanent, while the Legislature could change or rescind its own approval at any time. The House still needs to consider the matter and could reject Morrell’s latest plan.

Morrell also proposed other bills that sought to acknowledge women’s rights and prohibit sending victims of sexual abuse to jail if they decline to testify against their accusers.

Morrell proposed a constitutional amendment to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. But the Senate struck down that proposal by a clear 9-26 majority.

Nationwide, a majority of state legislatures has approved the Equal Rights Amendment since Congress passed it in 1972. Louisiana would have become the 38th state to ratify it. That is the required threshold to implement the amendment across the country.

Morrell’s bill to block the imprisonment of domestic violence and sex offense victims who decline to testify passed 36-0.

But the biggest drama came after lawmakers narrowly rejected Morrell’s first proposal for a constitutional amendment to exempt diapers and other feminine hygiene products from the state sales tax.

Twenty-one of the 33 senators supported it. But the bill failed to receive the two-thirds vote needed to advance to the lower chamber as a constitutional amendment.

Under the state constitution, necessities such as prescription drugs, groceries and utilities are already tax exempt.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, argued that the average woman would save only 27 cents a month from sales tax exemptions for feminine hygiene products and families with children in diapers would save only 65 cents a week.

“I don’t think it’s a game-changer,” Hewitt said, re