Don’t Throw the (Over One Million Dollar) Baby Out with the Bath Water

In lawyer David Simon’s call to abolish property tax exemption for “rich” nonprofits, he argues stridently that Illinois property tax exemptions reflect another example of unfair privileges, this time for “wealthy” nonprofits like the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.  He thus advocates for granting property tax exemptions only to nonprofits owning property valued at less than a million dollars.  His bright-line rule seemingly eliminates the highly problematic political schemes such as those found in PILOTs (“Payments in Lieu of Taxation”) which some state and local governments have adopted. But his commentary ignores the long history of nonprofit tax exemptions, the extensive societal benefits (including both financial and intangible benefits) resulting from such exemptions, and other key policy considerations. 

A Healthy Dose of Charity: The Carle and Oswald Property Tax Exemption Appeals

The Illinois appellate courts continue grappling with a new statute intended to bring clarity to nonprofit hospitals’ qualification for property tax exemption.  May such qualification be established through a certain amount of charitable activities, shown in financial terms?  These two cases demonstrate that charitable property use – not just charitable ownership and activities – is a nonnegotiable requirement under the Illinois Constitution for all nonprofit property owners. 

Protecting Against Violent Persons: The Illinois Workplace Violence Prevention Act

On his Facebook page, a recently-fired employee posts, “If revenge is sweet and a dish best served cold well, get ready …, the ice cream man is coming,” and texts a former co-worker about “beheading the boss and throwing [him] off the 19th floor. [1]”  How would your nonprofit handle such an alarming threat of violence against the organization or its employees?   Unfortunately, threats of violence in the workplace are on the rise – and nonprofits are not immune.  As employers and property owners, nonprofit organizations occasionally face the possibility of violence from disgruntled employees, participants in their activities, and others who may take offense. Recent high-profile examples come all too easily to mind, like the horrific workplace shooting in Sacramento and the Charleston church prayer meeting slaughter. 

A new legal tool is now available in Illinois to address serious threats:  the Illinois Workplace Violence Prevention Act, enacted in 2014.  In a nutshell, the Act provides for a special court restraining order – with police back-up – for churches, other religious institutions, and other organizations against persons shown to pose a “credible risk of harm” to others.  In addition to implementing general security measures and organizational policies, discussed here, nonprofits may now also proactively address specific threats against the organization or its employees through the Act, as discussed more fully below.

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