SAN FRANCISCO – California lawmakers are considering taking some tax exemptions away from youth groups that do not accept gay, transgender or atheist members — a move intended to pressure the Boy Scouts of America to lift its ban on gay Scouts and troop leaders.
Some cities have withdrawn free rent and other subsidies from the Boy Scouts over the years, but legislation introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara would make California the first state to target the Scouts for its anti-gay policy.
The Long Beach Democrat's bill, SB 323, is scheduled for its first committee hearing on Wednesday.
"Our state values the important role that youth groups play in the empowerment of our next generation; this is demonstrated by rewarding organizations with tax exemptions supported financially by all Californians," Lara said. "SB 323 seeks to end the unfortunate discriminatory and outdated practices by certain youth groups."
Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, told The Associated Press the organization was preparing a response to the proposal.
The legislation would deny tax-exempt status to nonprofit youth groups that discriminate on the basis of gender identity, race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion or religious affiliation.
As a result, it would require those organizations to pay corporate taxes on donations, membership dues, camp fees and other sources of income, and to obtain sellers permits and pay sales taxes on food, beverages and homemade items sold at fundraisers.
Churches that sponsor Boy Scouts troops would not lose their underlying tax-exempt status, but an array of nonprofits, ranging from the Young Men's Christian Association and Pop Warner football to the American Youth Soccer Association and 4-H clubs would have their tax returns and membership policies scrutinized by the state Franchise Tax Board if the bill becomes law, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analysts Office.
Also known as the Youth Equality Act, the bill requires a two-thirds vote from both houses of the Legislature and the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown to become law.
Legal aid groups that represent religious conservatives have cautioned the Senate Governance and Finance Committee that the measure conflicts with a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of private groups such as the Boy Scouts to exclude gays and lesbians from serving as adult leaders.
"SB 323's primary purpose is to penalize BSA based on its constitutionally protected membership policy and the values that underlie it," lawyers for the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom wrote in a letter to lawmakers last week. "This type of targeted punishment of a group based on how it exercises its associational and free speech rights violates the First Amendment."
The Legislative Analyst's Office, however, has assured the Legislature it has authority to decide which organizations qualify for tax breaks.
An analysis of the bill points to a 2006 ruling in which the California Supreme Court said the city of Berkeley, Calif., could end its half-century-old practice of giving a nautical-themed offshoot of the Boy Scouts free rent at the city marina because of its gay ban.