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March 22, 2000 01:43am
Condoms, medicines to become tax-free
Source: Morris News Service
by: Mary Alice Robbins

(AUSTIN, TX) -- Beginning April 1, Texans won't have to pay sales tax on nonprescription medications, ointments to treat sunburns, laxatives or condoms.

The inclusion of condoms among the tax-free items might have come as a surprise to Gov. George W. Bush. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee is a champion of abstinence.

When Bush announced his re-election bid in September 1998, he proposed a $400 million tax cut package that included a sales tax break on over-the-counter health items. But Bush said at the time that the tax cut wouldn't apply to condoms.

That was then; this is now.

State Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander said Tuesday the 1999 state law gave her no choice but to include condoms among the tax-exempt items.

"It's not a matter of interpretation; it's a matter of the law," Rylander said.

She said the law requires a drug, medicine or health-care product to be exempt from taxes if it has a national drug code number issued pursuant to U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations and prevents the spread of disease. Condoms meet that criteria.

Bush spokeswoman Linda Edwards said the governor never wanted condoms to be on the exempt list but has been told the law requires it.

"The law was written somewhat differently from the governor's original proposal for the over-the-counter medicine exemption," Edwards said.

Cathie Adams of Dallas, president of the conservative Texas Eagle Forum, objected strongly to the exemption for condoms. She said making any product tax-exempt encourages consumers to buy it.

"Our governor and the Legislature have made it very clear that we expect our young people to be abstinent until marriage," Adams said. "To tell them through a tax exemption that condoms are good is wrong."

But Peggy Romberg, executive director of the Texas Family Planning Association, said it would be inconsistent with good public health policy to separate out condoms, which are effective in preventing the spread of HIV and other diseases.

"Exempting condoms from the tax is appropriate because it prevents the spread of infections," Romberg said.

Adams said some medical professionals question the effectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The comptroller's office said about 100,000 products qualify for the sales tax exemption.

The exemption doesn't apply to medical equipment or devices like thermometers, heating pads, toothbrushes or dental floss. But lawmakers voted specifically to put blood glucose monitoring strips on the exempt list.

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