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Lawmakers want to punish bank for stiffing scouts

Bank of America quit donating to the Boy Scouts for its policy on gays

The Boy Scout motto is, "always be prepared." And in an election year, one should be prepared for a flurry of grandstanding. So maybe we should have seen this one coming.

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In April, Bank of America's Charitable Foundation declined to give money to a local Boy Scouts council, citing the scouts' national policy barring gays from serving as Boy Scout troop leaders.

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Now, Sen. John Wiles, R-Kennesaw, and Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, say they will introduce a bill during the next legislative session that would punish Bank of America by allowing the state to refuse to do business with any company that "practices discrimination."

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Basically, what Wiles and Ehrhart are recommending is that the state be allowed to discriminate against a company that discriminates against a group that discriminates.

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Wiles, who is a former scout and who has three sons in the Boy Scouts, says Bank of America has the right to donate to whomever the company wants.

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"But we as a state," he says, "we have the right not to do business with people who discriminate."

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Of course, the next legislative session is months away, and talk of a proposed bill at this point is a bit premature. But the announcement comes just in time — less than two months before the state's primary elections — to send a message to the social conservatives in Ehrhart's and Wiles' districts.

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Bank of America officials say the company is just trying to be consistent with its policy not to fund groups that discriminate on the basis of age, race, sex or sexual orientation. A letter from Bank of America to the Valdosta-based Alapaha council instructs the troop that if it were able to "depart from the current discriminatory practices of the national organization" the bank would consider donating to the Boy Scouts again.

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Wiles says that's not good enough. He calls Bank of America's decision extortion.

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"This is a new policy Bank of America's taken on and they're forcing local Boy Scout councils who rely on their money to change their policy," Wiles says.

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Lynne Hogue, a Georgia State University law professor, says it seems more like Wiles and Erhart are the ones trying to wrench money from Bank of America for the scouts.

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"It sounds like an extortion plot," Hogue says. "They're saying, 'If you want to do business with the state we're going to stick a gun to your head, and you've got to give money to these groups that we want money given to.' The mafia couldn't do a better job."

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Hogue also says he believes it's unlikely that Wiles' and Ehrhart's proposal would make it onto the House floor for a vote.

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"I think this is just bluster and political pandering and not much else," he says. "It's hard to imagine that this is a serious legislative proposal."




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