Legislation that would strip the Burning Tree Club of its property tax exemption because it discriminates against women took another step toward enactment today when proponents on a House committee fought off a backdoor attempt by opponents to kill the bill.
The bill, which could also strip all-male groups such as the Elks and Moose of their tax exemptions, was passed by the House Ways and Means Committee by a 15-to-4 vote, but only after opponents tried to amend it to make it apply statewide rather than just in Montgomery County. If such an amendment were approved, proponents say the bill almost surely would be defeated on the House floor.
The bill, if passed, would take away state and county tax exemptions currently granted to clubs such as Burning Tree under open space laws. It would also provide that any club or organization that discriminated on the basis of race, creed, sex or color would lose tax exemptions.
The 600-member Burning Tree, the only all-male golf club in the Washington area, has never admitted women. It currently pays only $13,000 of the $165,000 in taxes it would be assessed without the open space exemption.
The killer amendment was offered by Del. Dennis C. McCoy (D-Baltimore), who was immediately castigated for the move by Del. Mary Boergers (D-Montgomery).
"I really object strenuously to this technique," Boergers said. "You are making it a statewide bill in order to kill it and I object to that."
McCoy denied Boergers' allegation, insisting he made the motion "because I believe discrimination is wrong. If it's wrong in Montgomery County, it's wrong statewide."
Several proponents responded by offering to join with McCoy in sponsoring a separate bill to make the legislation statewide. But McCoy refused to withdraw his amendment, and several other opponents of the bill argued that it had statewide implications.
"Suppose Del. Michael Sprague D-Charles came in with a bill asking for a tax exemption for a Ku Klux Klan clubhouse in his county, would you consider that a local bill?" asked Del. Theodore Levin (D-Baltimore County).
That analogy drew angry responses both from Montgomery delegates and blacks on the committee. "What is this, 1954?" mumbled Del. Albert R. Wynn (D-Prince George's). "That is hardly a fair comparison and you know it," added Del. Ida Mae Garrott (D-Montgomery).
The committee finally voted against the amendment 14 to 8. One of those who voted for the amendment was committee vice chairman Gerard F. Devlin (D-Prince George's), who had earlier said he would vote for the bill. "I'm in favor of fighting discrimination statewide," Devlin said, smiling, after the vote.
With the amendment dead, the bill was safe, since many delegates, like Devlin, had committed themselves to supporting the bill.
"The amendment would have killed the bill, no question about it," said Sen. Stewart Bainum Jr. (D-Montgomery), the bill's sponsor, who spent most of the last week lobbying the committee on the legislation. "Even with it just as a local bill which ordinarily would be approved as a courtesy to the sponsoring delegation , we're going to have a tough time with it on the floor because all the guys who work for clubs that discriminate are going to fight it."
Bainum said he plans to ask women legislators and black legislators to help him lobby for the bill before it comes to the House floor next week. If it passes the House, it still must be approved by the Senate Budget and Tax Committee and the full Senate before going to Gov. Harry Hughes, whose aides have indicated he will sign it.
In past years, similar proposals died within the Montgomery delegation, but this year, the county's legislators approved it by a vote of 19 to 1 in the House delegation and 7 to 0 in the Senate delegation. The Senate vote reversed an earlier action and came after delegation chairman Sidney Kramer said he got fed up with Burning Tree because it made no attempt to begin plans for women's facilities. Kramer's switch of position swung the vote towards the bill.