AUGUSTA — A bill proposed after a state official ordered the Red Barn restaurant to stop holding its community fundraisers won the unanimous approval of a legislative committee Tuesday.

The proposed change in state law would allow businesses to raise funds for nonprofit organizations and people in need without registering as nonprofits. Over the last five years, Red Barn in Augusta has raised $635,000 for charities.

In November, a letter from an assistant attorney general directed the restaurant to “cease engaging in solicitation as a charitable organization until you become licensed as a charitable organization or show why you do not need to be licensed as such.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro, received a unanimous endorsement from the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday.

Alicia Barnes, business manager of the Red Barn and volunteer executive director of the Red Barn Cares Foundation, which is being established as a nonprofit organization to further the Red Barn’s charitable activities, said she and owner Laura Benedict hope the change will encourage more businesses to hold fundraising events for people and organizations in their communities.

Benedict has credited the Red Barn’s regular fundraisers with saving the business by bringing in new customers and fostering loyalty. The restaurant hosts the events at no charge and provides free food to the charities.

“Laura is ecstatic. She couldn’t be more thankful for how this went down,” Barnes said. “We’re hoping some other businesses in town, which are already supporting the community, will do the same thing.”

Fowle, whose district includes a small part of Augusta that includes the Red Barn, said she submitted the bill so other small, local businesses wouldn’t have to worry about getting into legal trouble while raising money for causes.

The Red Barn’s fundraisers resumed late last year after the restaurant was granted a waiver of the licensing requirement for December.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]