When Harsna Chahal was a student at Okemos High School in 2016, she recalls when the New York Legislature passed a bill to remove the sales tax on menstrual hygiene products.
Curious if similar legislation passed in Michigan, Chahal was upset to learn Michigan still had the tax. She wanted to change this.
Then came 2020, when Chahal was elected a student government representative for the Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU).
“So when I joined ASMSU, I was like, ‘this is it,’” Chahal said. “This is how we can help make a difference.”
Chahal, who represents Lyman Briggs College, introduced bill 57-73 to advocate for the elimination of a sales tax on menstrual hygiene products. The bill passed on March 4 and was seconded by Jordan Kovach, who represents James Madison College.
In the Michigan Legislature, there have been more than a dozen attempts to remove the tax since 2016, but none has moved out of the Tax Policy Committee.
Chahal and Kovach met with Michigan state representatives, including Rep. Padma Kuppa, D-Troy.
Kuppa said she also met with students from Novi, and is excited to see younger people take a role in government.
“I always love engaging people so that we can create student activists,” Kuppa said. “I got my encouragement during my student days from various people and I want to make sure that I empower others that we all have a voice. It’s not just voting, there’s also advocating.”
Kuppa said that because Republicans hold majorities on committees, it is difficult to get hearings on bills. Therefore, she encouraged students to meet with conservative groups on campus to gather interest, since many conservatives support lower taxes.
“Find allies or whatever issue it is because it’s by building those alliances and relationships and making sure people understand, that’s how we advance good policy,” Kuppa said.
They also met with Rep. Tenisha Yancey, D-Harper Woods, minority vice-chair on the Tax Policy Committee, to learn more about the process and to discuss how one or both of them can testify at a hearing.
Chahal and Kovach met with student representatives at Oakland University and Western Michigan University to encourage them to introduce bills to remove the tax in their student governments.
“Hopefully, this shows support that this is something that not just MSU wants, but like a lot of people from the state of Michigan want,” Chahal said. “We’re going to help them try to get into contact with representatives and just make it a more statewide cause.”
Chahal and Kovach are seeking to get free tampons offered in MSU bathrooms. Kovach said student organizations have advocated this for years.
Kovach said ASMSU and the Residence Hall Association, the student government of residential halls, committed to paying for this. Each dispenser would cost $280 to buy and install, according to Kovach.
MSU Infrastructure Planning and Facilities staff would install the dispensers, but Kovach said it will not commit to refilling them. Chahal and Kovach will continue advocating for this action.
“We spoke to President Stanley about it at one of the GA meetings that he came to and he said it’s something that he’s very interested in and that he did it at his previous school,” Kovach said.
Kuppa is working to offer more dispensers in public schools, including creating more education and removing stigma. She is also working to collect more products in her district for those who cannot afford them.
Kovach is feeling optimistic about legislation because Gov. Gretchen Whitmer accounted for the anticipated tax loss of about $7 million in her 2022 fiscal year proposed budget.
Kovach encouraged people and students to write legislators, especially Republicans who serve on the Tax Policy Committee.
“Not a ton of people reach out to their state representatives or state senators, so when they do, it’s a pretty big impact,” Kovach said. “Doing that, so that way we can actually get this bill off the ground and hopefully actually get it passed here would be fantastic.”
Kuppa said she is excited about the amount of public interest on the issue and feels hopeful about passing legislation.
“I think that the more awareness there is the more advocacy there is on this issue, then we have a chance to see it happen,” Kuppa said. “But it definitely has to come from the grassroots, asking our colleagues on tax policy to give it a hearing, asking for our colleagues on appropriations to approve it.”
Chahal hopes people understand the legislation would help people.
“Understanding that this tax is going to help a lot of people that you may not know personally, but there’s just a lot of people out there who need this to help pay for periods,” Chahal said. “They save a lot of money, you’ll be surprised how much you spend.”