- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The Idaho House narrowly passed a bill Wednesday that would allow Girl Scouts to keep the sales tax on the thousands of boxes of cookies sold each year.

House Bill 449 received a robust debate on the House floor, with many conservative legislators opposing the measure and questioning its fairness to other nonprofits.

The bill would allow tax exemptions on food sales to both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. For Girl Scouts, the bill’s passage would mean the organization would keep about $200,000 in would-be sales tax each year.

The legislation passed 35-31 and will now head over to the Senate, where it will receive a Legislative hearing.

Rep. Janet Trujillo of Idaho Falls says tax exemptions for both Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts would pay off exponentially in future savings for the state. She told the House floor Girl Scouts are 81 percent more likely to earn a four-year degree and much less likely to engage in risky behaviors, like underage drinking and illicit drug use.

“These two organizations have proven to us time and time again … that they provide far more than what we can offer them in this exemption,” Trujillo said.

Trujillo also listed dozens of other nonprofits that get tax exemptions under state law.

However, several conservative lawmakers voiced their disapproval of the bill, arguing the measure was contrary to the Idaho Constitution.

Republican Rep. Heather Scott of Blanchard said the measure is unconstitutional because it doesn’t apply the same exemption to all nonprofits.

“What I would like to say is do we continue down this road of going against this Constitution?” Scott asked. “Or do we stop it now and write a bill that affects everyone equal(ly).”

The Northern Idaho lawmaker also suggested that instead of passing the measure, the Legislature should abolish all taxes on food.

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, said he as a former Boy Scout and Boy Scout leader, applauded the bill’s intent, but he plans to vote against the bill. He and Scott both suggested writing a new measure that would apply such exemptions to all nonprofits equally.

“The taxes on the nonprofits organizations or youth programs … that build strong character in our young men and young women, those shouldn’t be taxed,” he said. “I do pause because we are singling out only two organizations.”

The Rexburg Republican said that allowing the tax exemptions for only a few organizations sets a horrible precedent in tax policy.

A similar measure passed the House in 2013, but it was killed by senators who argued there were too many tax-exempt groups.

Idaho and Hawaii are the only two states that currently tax Girl Scout cookies.

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