ONCE AGAIN -- but this time in a new bill aimed directly at a specific and notorious case of subsidized discrimination by sex -- the Maryland legislature has an important opportunity to do something about the tax status of the Burning Tree Club in Bethesda. The Maryland Senate has approved the bill, which would end a fat tax exemption for this all-male club without jeopardizing any private practices of other fraternal and social organizations. At issue is a specific tax exemption enjoyed by only one organization in the state with discriminatory policies: Burning Tree. The next vote is in the House Ways and Means Committee, where every member can and should support the bill with good conscience.

The measure also addresses provisions in current law the courts have said were unclear. As approved by the Senate, the bill would end a preferential property tax assessment that has given Burning Tree a discount of between $150,000 and $186,000 a year. This tax break was originally provided in 1965, in exchange for the club's preservation of open space. That's fine, but not for any club that discriminates as Burning Tree does. If this club insists on continuing its exclusionary policies, that's the members' business -- but not with the financial blessing of every taxpayer.

Open spaces are wonderful, but those spaces at Burning Tree aren't open to women -- and no man or woman should be stuck with making up the revenues lost to Montgomery County and saved by such a club. To ensure enactment of the improved bill, the House committee should act promptly on behalf of taxpayers who are repelled by the Burning Tree exemption.