ANNAPOLIS — A bill exempting purchases of prisoner-of-war flags from Maryland’s 5 percent sales tax will be debated in a Senate hearing Thursday.
The House of Delegates approved the bill, 137-2, last week.
Both American and Maryland flag purchases have been exempt from the state sales tax for more than 20 years. This bill would add POW flags — a black and white flag with the silhouette of a soldier and the phrase “You Are Not Forgotten” — to that list.
“It’s a symbolic gesture just like the U.S. flag and Maryland flag,” said Delegate David Rudolph, D-Cecil, who sponsored the bill. “The economic impact is very small but the symbolic impact is appropriate.”
Rudolph said he sponsored the bill at the request of one of his constituents, Ray Boyle, a national council member for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Boyle said the bill was important to veterans because it places the POW flag in the same category as Old Glory.
“The flag is sacred,” said Boyle. “To us that flag represents a friend or veteran who is still missing overseas.”
According to the National League of POW/MIA Families, at the end of the Vietnam War there were 2,583 American soldiers missing. Today, 2,063 veterans are unaccounted for, the organization says.
A similar flag bill passed the House last year, but failed in the Senate.
With feelings of patriotism heightened by American involvement in a NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, the legislation could get a more favorable reception this year.
Yet, the timing may not sway some lawmakers.
“I just think it’s idiotic,” said Delegate Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery, one of the House members who voted against the bill last Wednesday.
“I shouldn’t make light of it,” he added, “but today you can walk down Main Street and buy a flag that says `U.S. Navy’ and pay the sales tax. If you buy a flag that says POW you don’t have to pay the sales tax? That’s foolish.”
Dembrow said the bill demonstrates the broader problem of lobbyists getting bills passed for special interest groups, and he decried the bill as poor tax policy.
“The average Joe has to carry the freight for all these exceptions we’ve created for special interests,” he said.
Michael Riston, commander of the American Legion of Maryland said he supports the tariff-free idea.
“I don’t see anything wrong with (giving a tax exemption),” Riston said. “You’re talking maybe 10 cents or 15 cents, what is the state going to lose on that?”