February 6, 2013

Idaho lawmakers back tax break for anti-abortion group

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Betsy Russell photo

Anti-abortion activist Brandi Swindell narrates for the audience as volunteers from Stanton Healthcare, a Boise crisis pregnancy center, conduct a live ultrasound demonstration on a woman who is 11 weeks pregnant with her sixth child in an Idaho Capitol hearing room.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – The Idaho House’s tax committee has endorsed legislation to grant a sales tax exemption to non-profit pregnancy resource centers that don’t perform abortions, at the request of a center that last year staged live ultrasound demonstrations on pregnant women in the state Capitol.

Freshman Rep. Kelly Packer, R-McCammon, said she crafted the bill after meeting Stanton Healthcare’s head, anti-abortion activist Brandi Swindell, who told her the organization had recently been audited and had to pay $6,000 in back sales taxes.

“They unfortunately had not been paying (sales) taxes for seven years,” Packer told the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on Wednesday. “They thought they were already under a tax-exemption umbrella, and found out unfortunately that they weren’t. And that $6,000, though not maybe a lot for the state of Idaho, provides a hardship for their facility.”

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “It sounds like a situation where an Idaho taxpayer didn’t realize they were subject to the tax, got caught short. This happens fairly frequently.” He said many other types of non-profit medical clinics, whether they work with the disabled, treat diabetes or treat Alzheimer’s, might be just as deserving of a sales tax exemption as Swindell’s group. “When we treat different taxpayers differently just because an issue arose with one of them, that doesn’t strike me as a rational basis on which to change the tax code,” he said.

But Burgoyne was on the losing end of a voice vote to pass the bill, HB 62, which now moves to the full House for debate.

Packer said she excluded pregnancy resource centers that perform abortions from the tax exemption in her bill “because of my personal moral code.”

If the bill becomes law, it would add the pregnancy centers to a section of Idaho state law that provides sales tax exemptions for a specific list of organizations including the March of Dimes, the American Cancer Society, the Special Olympics and the Idaho Ronald McDonald House.

Last year’s live ultrasound exhibit was in support of legislation to require Idaho women seeking abortions to first have an ultrasound; the bill died amid concerns that it would require an invasive form of the procedure, because that’s what’s required to detect a heartbeat at early stages of pregnancy, against the will of patients. The bill passed the Senate, but never came up for a hearing in the House.

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