County commissioners to discuss 13-year-old policy Tuesday
The Dallas County Commissioners Court is set to reconsider a 13-year-old prohibition against county health department employees distributing free condoms.
Openly gay Dallas County Judge Jim Foster, who chairs the commissioners court, said this week he "fully expect[s]" the ban to be lifted during the court’s regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 13.
"We won’t know for sure until Tuesday. But we only need three votes to overturn it," Foster said. He and District 3 Commissioner John Wiley Price both oppose the ban, and Foster said that while he won’t "name any names, I believe one other commissioner is inclined" to vote against the ban.
However, a source close to the court said Thursday morning, Jan. 8, that District 4 Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield plans to try and circumvent a vote to lift the ban completely by introducing a plan that would only partially lift the ban.
Mayfield’s plan would allow health department workers to distribute condoms only to "high-risk" individuals who had already been identified as having HIV or another sexually-transmitted disease, and as having been known to have had sexual relations with others.
Mayfield is known as one of the most conservative members of the commissioners court. He and District 2 Commissioner Mike Cantrell were both on the court in 1995 when the ban was initially approved, and both voted in favor of it. Price was also on the court at that time, and was the only commissioner to vote against the ban then. District 1 Commissioner Maurine Dickey joined the court in 2005, and Foster joined in 2007.
The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the court offices at 411 Elm St. in downtown Dallas, the same building that houses the Sixth Floor Museum. The meeting is open to the public.
The court initiated the ban on distribution of condoms and needle bleach kits in 1995. Commissioners at the time justified the vote by saying giving out free condoms and bleach kits would imply approval of gay sex and IV drug use, both of which were illegal.
Since that time, the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, has overturned the Texas sodomy law, taking away the court’s justification for the condom distribution ban.
The Texas Department of Health and Human Services provides county health departments with free condoms to hand out in an effort to curb the spread of HIV. But in Dallas County, health department employees can give out the condoms only to those who come to the county clinic.
Price, concerned over the disproportionate HIV infection rate in minority communities, brought up the ban during a December commissioners court meeting. Foster joined Price in calling for the court to lift the ban.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 9, 2009.