Senate Panel Endorses Brubaker Proposal to Protect Public Charities
Public charities across the Commonwealth and the nation play an important role in meeting the needs of our communities and helping vulnerable populations. Their selfless services stand as a shining example of the good that can be accomplished when individuals work together toward a common goal. However, while many of these organizations constantly struggle to attract enough volunteers and donations to meet the demand for services, a recent court ruling added another serious obstacle to their efforts – the threat of considerably higher tax bills.
In 1997, the General Assembly passed a law that ensures purely public charities are exempt from paying local real estate taxes. The law included specific standards for identifying a purely public charity to avoid any confusion regarding which organizations qualify for a tax exemption. But unfortunately, a state Supreme Court ruling last year in Mesivtah vs. Pike County Board of Assessment Appeals applied a different legal standard to determine which organizations qualified for an exemption. This new standard for determining a purely public charity differs significantly from the criteria established by the General Assembly. In the months since the ruling was announced, a number of charities have seen their property tax exemptions revoked by school boards, municipal governments and other taxing bodies.
To address the problem, the Senate Finance Committee recently approved a bill I introduced with Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati that adds a layer of protection for purely public charities. The legislation would ensure these organizations can continue to allocate their limited resources toward building stronger communities.
Senate Bill 4 would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to clearly define what constitutes a purely public charity and ensure these organizations are eligible for an exemption from paying local property taxes. The bill provides a clear avenue to protect public charities so they can continue to serve the interests of our communities.
The Senate approved a similar measure last year, and I am hopeful that prompt action on this measure in 2013 will lead to the bill passing both chambers. Because the bill would amend the state Constitution, the measure must be approved by the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters in a statewide referendum to become law.
Our state and region is extremely fortunate to have so many charitable organizations working to support our most vulnerable citizens, including children, seniors and low-income individuals and families. Protecting these institutions from costly legal battles and burdensome taxes should be a high priority for the General Assembly.
Pennsylvania State Police Launch New App to Prevent Terrorism
The Pennsylvania State Police recently released a free smartphone application to help citizens report suspicious activity that could be linked to terrorism. The new “See Something, Send Something” app allows users to send photos and tips to the Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center.
Tips should focus on suspicious behavior and situations, such as a briefcase or backpack left unattended or behavior that is indicative of criminal activity. Credible threats will be passed on to local, state and federal law enforcement.
In addition to the new mobile app, citizens can report suspicious individuals or activity by calling the toll-free State Police Terrorism Tip Line at 1-888-292-1919 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on issues of importance to Pennsylvania residents, please visit my website at senatorbrubaker.com.