With erectile dysfunction bill down, Democrats try ‘tampon tax’ cut

While a House subcommittee killed last week a proposal from two Democratic women to put new restrictions on erectile dysfunction medications, they are now pushing legislation that would reduce the state sales tax on diapers, feminine hygiene products and nonprescription drugs.

The erectile dysfunction bill (HB1927) was killed on voice vote by the House Health Subcommittee after Dr. John Hale, president of the Tennessee Medical Association, declared the statewide physicians’ organization opposed the measure as unnecessary and unwarranted.

“You’d make a lot of your constituents very unhappy if you pass this,” Hale, a Union City doctor, warned the panel.

Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, and Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, sponsored the measure – perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek – as a contrast to Republican legislators enacting various measures to put restrictions on abortion, often arguing that concern over women’s health motivated their efforts.

Dubbed “the Viagra bill,” the measure would require a 48-hour waiting period after mandatory counseling before issuing a prescription for erectile dysfunction medications, along with a heart “stress test.” It would also require a notarized affidavit from a sexual partner of men receiving a prescription stating that the man has problems and the medication is needed.

Jones gave a deadpan presentation of the measure before the subcommittee, listing at some length negative side effects of the drugs in question, including 523 deaths in one year and surgical procedures involving needles and “blades” required when problems occur. She said one man supporting the bill told her his father had been given free samples of Viagra by a doctor while recovering from the effects of cancer chemotherapy, apparently causing death from a heart attack afterward.

“This is very important for men’s good health so they know what they are getting into,” Jones said. “We want to protect men” from “these costly and dangerous drugs.”

She also contended there was a growing “black market” for the drugs targeting men who do not need the medications and “encouraging sex for men instead of abstinence.”

Hale was invited to testify before the panel by Rep. Mathew Hill, R-Jonesborough, who has sponsored several anti-abortion bills. Hale said there would be a “tremendous increase” in the black market if the bill was approved and that the drugs are used to treat ailments other than erectile dysfunction, including urination problems. Beyond his testimony, there was little discussion by subcommittee members.

After the bill was voted down, Jones told the panel that male legislators – only one woman lawmaker serves on the subcommittee – should consider “everything you thought about” in the way of negative reaction to her proposal, “multiply that by a thousand times,” and know “that’s the way women feel every time you step into our business.”

In a news release last week, Jones and Kyle contrast Republican bills to reduce or repeal the state’s tax on investment income with their effort to lower the state sales tax on “basic necessities.” The release headline says the bill would cut the “Tampon tax.”

The measure (SB2285) would lower the state sales tax on diapers, feminine hygiene products and over-the-counter drugs. Prescription drugs are exempt from the sales tax, along with some nonprescription medications.

Currently, products covered by the bill are now subject to the state’s general 7 percent sales tax. The bill would lower that to 5 percent, the rate now in effect for groceries.

Kyle, who has put the bill on notice for a vote in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday, depicted the measure as “an alternative that would benefit every single Tennessean at every income level” as opposed to reducing the Hall income tax, which would benefit only those with substantial investment income.