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Donation Collection Bin Bill Vetoed

By Zach Halper - October 9, 2012

An initiative spearheaded by Goodwill International that would have stopped nonprofits from placing collection bins on private property in California was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor called the bill anti-competitive.

The proposed law, Assembly Bill 1978, was sponsored by Cathleen Galgiana (D-Stockton), and would have required charitable organizations to get written consent from property owners before placing collection bins. Goodwill of Silicon Valley pushed for the bill because of the amount of unregulated donation boxes being dropped across the state.

However, Brown agreed with other organizations in the area that the bill would have had severe consequences for local charities.

“I support the author’s goal of giving property owners more tools to enforce their property rights,” Brown said via a statement. “However, I believe the language can be more narrowly crafted to avoid unintended consequences to local charities and nonprofits. I look forward to working with the author next year to craft a more balanced approach.”

Goodwill, one of the largest clothing distributors in the country, would have had a decided advantage had the bill passed. The organization typically uses tractor-trailer donation centers, eliminating the need for them to ask permission from property owners.

“The intent of this bill was good,” said Julie Wedge, public relations director at Richmond, Calif.-based Campus California, a nonprofit that collects and sells used clothing. “But the language was just not right.”

Wedge listed a couple of problems with the bill that arose when it was introduced. The original language of the bill required organizations to get written permission from the property owner, which was a problem since many property owners are not individuals, but corporate entities. Campus California worked with Goodwill and the bill’s authors to change the language so that the permission could also come from the owner or the owner’s agent.

What they couldn’t agree on, however, was what would happen if the bins were removed. Wedge explained that anybody could simply call a tow truck company to remove the boxes, claiming they were out of compliance. Campus California and other organizations wanted language inserted into the bill that would only allow the property owner to remove it, a request that was denied. The cost to retrieve a lost box could be as much as $1,000, which would have been prohibitively expensive for smaller organizations like Campus California.

“That’s more than what we spend on the bins themselves,” explained Wedge, who said that Campus California has 1,100 bins statewide, mostly in northern California.

Some critics of the vetoed bill wondered whether Goodwill’s primary motivation for pushing for the law was to squelch competition, a claim the organization denies.

“There has been an increase in unattended donation bins popping up around the country, many of which aren’t labeled properly or mislead donors,” said Lauren Lawson, director of public relations at Goodwill International, in an emailed statement to The NonProfit Times. “Goodwill believes that these bins should be regulated to ensure proper disclosures are in place, the bins are emptied often, and that property owners are aware of the bins being placed on their land.” Lawson added that Goodwill is not seeking similar legislation nationwide.

The next session of the California State Assembly begins on Dec. 3 and the legislation will likely be bought up again. If that happens, Wedge said her organization and others are hoping to get the problems from the original law resolved.

“We hope to work with the author in the next session to fix the unintended consequences that this bill would have caused,” she said.

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