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The Internet has proven to be a valuable but humbling tool
for me as a writer. As I read comments left on my editorials and blog posts, I
realize that sometimes what I write isn’t as clear as I think.

A case in point is Saturday’s editorial about volunteer programs
and public money. You can link to it, or here’s a summary: A change in state
law resulted in a regulatory ruling that prohibited volunteer labor on projects
involving public money. The example in the editorial was last weekend’s coastal
cleanup day. There are countless similar efforts, such as creek restoration,
graffiti removal, playground repair, etc. An exemption was granted to the state
law for these sorts of volunteer efforts. But the exemption expires Dec. 31
unless legislation to extend it for four years is signed by the governor. We
urged the governor to sign it and called for a permanent exemption.

It seemed clear enough to me until I saw the questions
posted on pressdemocrat.com. This one from 3xsarky, a regular on the site,
captures the confusion: “Duh, call me stupid, but why does it take state money
for a “volunteer” clean up? Who gets the molah?”

In the case of the coastal cleanup, it is organized by the
California Coastal Commission, a state agency. Public money pays the state
employees who plan it. So without the exemption, the people who pick up the
litter would have to be paid prevailing wage. No volunteer labor. The same rule
would apply if a school district buys paint for a playground. Spending public
money on the paint would trigger the ban on volunteers painting the playground.

Supporters of that approach say public employees ought to be
doing the work on public projects to ensure quality and to protect the jobs of
public employees. Critics say that there ought to be room for people to
volunteer on public projects in their communities, especially projects like
creek restoration and litter removal that get often get squeezed out of lean
budgets.

— Jim Sweeney