May 21, 1997
The Administration supports the intent of H.R. 911 -- to facilitate the work
of an ever-growing number of volunteers -- but we remain concerned with
several of the bill's provisions.
H.R. 911 is a reasonable attempt to address the country's need for the services of an ever-growing number of volunteers. It is targeted to those acting without financial motives, and limited with respect to the types and extent of liability excluded. The bill permits States not only to opt out of the bill's provisions entirely but also to require proper licensing and evidence of financial responsibility. None of the bill's limitations on liability would apply to misconduct that constitutes a crime of violence, an act of international terrorism, a hate crime, or to any misconduct that involves intoxication, drug use, a sexual offense, or the violation of any State or Federal civil rights law. Application of the bill's provisions only to harm arising after the effective date effectively ties the bill's purpose -- to encourage volunteering -- to its effect.
While the Administration applauds the intent of H.R. 911, it remains concerned about several of its provisions. First, the total prohibition on joint and several liability for non-economic damages would unfairly and inequitably impact poor, sick, and older Americans -- those most likely to use volunteer services. Second, sections 3(a) and 4(e)(2) apply the principle of one-way preemption: State laws that further limit volunteer liability are recognized, but those that expand plaintiff's rights are not. While perhaps appropriate in the context of encouraging individuals to volunteer, one-way preemption in general remains a troubling interference with state prerogatives. Finally, the definition of "non-profit organization" remains too broad, encompassing organizations about which no independent judgment of their public benefit has been made.
The Administration will work with the Congress to resolve these concerns.