Boy Scout tax exemption bill shelved
September 13, 2013 - By Adam O'Neal
Senate Bill 323, a bill eliminating tax-exempt status for nonprofit organizations that don’t allow gay members to join, on Thursday was shelved for one year. The author of the bill, Sen. Rick Lara, D-Bell Gardens, decided to postpone the bill until the next legislative session in order to polish and rewrite parts of it.
“Let me be very clear, SB323 is alive and well,” said Lara in a statement released by his office. “As this is the first year to a two year legislative session, we will be taking the next few months to work closely with all parties involved to address and refine this legislation.”
SB323 was moved to the inactive file, which will allow it to be considered again next January. The bill, once tweaked, is likely to pass both chambers.
It’s unknown whether Gov. Jerry Brown will sign it. As a former attorney general, he likely is aware that the bill would generate lawsuits along the lines of the First Amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble,” which also is incorporated into the California Constitution.
Another First Amendment entanglement would be that many scout troops are sponsored by churches, which explicitly are protected by the First Amendment guarantee of “the free exercise” of religion.
The bill had significant momentum behind it. From Sen. Lara’s press release:
“The bill, authored by Senator Ricardo Lara and sponsored by Equality California, passed the Assembly Tax and Revenue Committee with a vote of 6-3, and the Judiciary by a vote of 6-3. In June, the Youth Equality Act received a two-thirds vote in the Senate — the first time an LGBT bill received a two-thirds vote in the state’s history.”
Specifically, the legislation would have removed the tax-exempt status of “an organization that is a public charity youth organization that discriminates on the basis of gender identity, race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or religious affiliation,” according of the text of the bill.
The bill would have only affected state sales and corporate taxes.
Although the bill, also known as the Youth Equality Act, broadly targeted every nonprofit that doesn’t allow gay members, it was primarily being directed at the Boy Scouts of America, which has received criticism from various groups in recent years for its ban on gays and atheists joining the organization.
Until earlier this year, the Boy Scouts of America did not allow openly gay scouts to participate in the organization. The change in policy, which was praised by gay-rights proponents, was not enough to stave off criticism, as openly gay adults still cannot serve as leaders in the organization.
The Boy Scouts of America stood potentially to lose millions of dollars.
Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith told the Los Angeles Times:
“More than ever, California’s youth need scouting and we are focused on the goals that unite us. Scouting remains undeterred in its belief that together we can accomplish incredible things for the youth we serve.”
Despite the bill’s financial ramifications for the Boy Scouts, the organization, which has over 2.7 million Scouts and 1 million adults nationwide, has not indicated that it will alter its membership requirements in response to the legislation.