WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (April 18-24, 2011)

LAW & PUBLIC POLICY

Amish, state laws face conflicts.” By Judy Keen. USA Today. April 19, 2011. Padlocked doors on two homes and a schoolhouse in Cambria County, Pa., are symbols of the conflicts that can erupt between the nation’s 245,000 Amish and state and local laws. After months of negotiations between the Amish and the Cambria County Sewage Enforcement Agency, a judge in 2009 ordered that the buildings be closed until the owners comply with state rules requiring building and sewage permits. Outhouses were illegally emptied onto fields, prompting complaints. Donald Kraybill, a professor at Pennsylvania’s Elizabethtown College who has written several books about the Amish, says such clashes are not unusual, especially among the most conservative Amish settlements. “The more traditional the group, the more likely some kind of friction is,” he says. Most Amish, he says, prefer to keep their distance from modern culture, including governments. They don’t consider themselves outside the law, Kraybill says, but they have their own rules, which vary in each community. “Religious rights don’t allow you the right to pollute somebody’s water supply,” says Deborah Sedlmeyer, executive director of the Cambria County enforcement agency.

Five myths about church and state in America.” By David Sehat. Opinion. Washington Post. April 22, 2011. Liberals claim that the founding fathers separated church and state, while conservatives argue that the founders made faith a foundation of our government. Both sides argue that America once enjoyed a freedom to worship that they seek to preserve. Yet neither side gets it right. As we mark Passover and Easter, let’s end some misconceptions about religion and politics in America.

City sends ‘tax’ bills to major nonprofits; Aims to triple voluntary payments within 5 years.” By Michael Rezendes. Boston Globe. April 24, 2011. For the first time, Boston’s major tax-exempt institutions — its premier hospitals, universities, and cultural centers — are being asked to make regular voluntary payments to the city based on the value of their property to help offset the rising cost of city services and cuts in state financial aid. Although many of the city’s nonprofit organizations have been making so-called Payments In Lieu of Taxes for decades, this marks a major change to a system that feels to some organizations uncomfortably close to tax bills. Boston officials recently mailed letters to leaders at 40 major nonprofits asking them to pay up to 25 percent of what they would owe if their property were not tax-exempt. “We’re looking for fairness for Boston taxpayers and the nonprofits,’’ said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “This isn’t something we drew up on the back of an envelope. It’s something we put a lot of thought into.’’ The new revenue-raising plan — the first of its kind in the nation — is based on the estimated cost of providing basic city services, such as police and fire protection, snow removal, and emergency medical treatment, which account for roughly 25 percent of the city’s budget. And it is designed to gradually increase annual financial payments to the city by the major tax-exempt organizations from the $15 million they paid this year to $48 million over a five-year ramp-up period. That is still significantly less than the $404 million nonprofits would pay if they were not tax-exempt. New assessments of the property owned by the city’s 40 largest major nonprofits show that its collective value is $13.6 billion, or the equivalent of more than half of the city’s commercial tax base, which is about $25 billion, according to Boston’s Assessing Department. But support for the plan — the product of a mayoral task force that included representatives from nonprofits — appears mixed among the organizations being asked to pay. Some nonprofit leaders voiced unequivocal support for the initiative during interviews with the Globe, asserting that their success depends in large measure on attracting visitors — students, hospital patients, and culture lovers — to a safe, well-managed city.

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