Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Omaha begins crackdown on charities' roadside solicitation of donations

From the Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska:

If charities want on-duty Omaha city employees to solicit donations from motorists, the groups will need to get a hefty insurance policy first.

The Omaha City Council passed an amended ordinance Sept. 22 requiring all charities, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association, to prove that they have $5 million in liability insurance before asking city workers who are on the time clock to solicit roadside donations.

Deputy City Attorney Bob Hamer told council members that the move would protect the city against liability if an employee was hurt while raising money along the city’s streets. The policy must include $500,000 in medical liability coverage.

The ordinance passed on a 5-1 vote.

Last month, the council approved an ordinance to allow roadside charitable solicitations. The Nebraska Legislature approved a similar bill this year, paving the way for the council to change its policies.

Omaha firefighters had asked the council to allow them to raise money on city streets for the Muscular Dystrophy Association over Labor Day weekend. Omaha firefighters had resorted to other fundraising since 2001, when city officials concluded that state law barred roadside solicitations.

Trevor Towey, treasurer of the firefighters union, said Tuesday that this year’s roadside fundraising raised about $65,000 for the organization.

Jim Owen, MDA divisional field representative, said his organization already has the required insurance policy.

The ordinance approved Tuesday would apply to any organization wanting city employees to collect donations, though no other groups have approached the city.

The ordinance allows city workers, including firefighters, to solicit donations while on the job.

Councilwoman Jean Stothert had proposed that city employees only be allowed to raise money for charities on their own time, pointing out that most private citizens volunteer when they’re not at work. She said she was concerned that the city would be liable for any injuries or worker compensation if a city employee was hurt while soliciting donations.

Stothert’s proposal failed in a 3-3 vote.

Towey said on-duty firefighters are more visible to motorists and thus get more cash in their boots.

“They see the firetrucks,” he said. “If we were to do it on a voluntary basis, we couldn’t have the firetrucks here.”

After nearly two hours of discussion, Councilman Chris Jerram offered the insurance requirement as a compromise.

Only Councilman Franklin Thompson opposed the amendment, saying he thinks city employees should solicit donations as volunteers, not while working.

The council also voted to require roadside donations to take place after the morning rush hour, beginning at 9 a.m., to a half-hour before sunset. Charities also would be required to pay a $50 fee before seeking contributions.