Newsom signs Smith and Wilk’s unclaimed property bill into law

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The State Controller’s Office will now be able to return government-owned properties in a more streamlined process with the passage of a bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom that was introduced by Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, and co-authored by state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita. 

Assembly Bill 1637 returns money directly to local and state agencies, such as cities, counties, the California State University and University of California, without requiring entities to file a claim. 

“Returning government-owned properties automatically will cut bureaucratic red tape, put critical taxpayer dollars back into programs where they belong and allow my team to focus our efforts on reuniting the properties we are safeguarding with individuals throughout California,” State Controller Betty Yee said in a prepared statement.

In its May meeting, the Santa Clarita City Council unanimously supported AB 1637, calling the measure in a support letter proactive and efficient in the return of unclaimed properties to state and local government entities. City staff also “regularly monitor the State Controller’s Office website and file claims when an unclaimed property under the city’s name is posted on the site.” 

“I am pleased this measure to streamline the unclaimed property return process received the support of the city of Santa Clarita to save costs for our city and cities across California, benefitting all residents,” said Smith. 

Wilk, who has promoted the unclaimed property portal, “is a huge proponent of connecting people with their unclaimed property,” said Wilk spokeswoman Eileen Ricker, who added that his office sends emails and holds office hours “to help folks and we have hosted events around helping people check on unclaimed property and claim it.” 

Existing law requires entities such as banks, corporations and insurance companies to report and submit property to the State Controller’s Office when there has been no activity on the account for a period — about three years — and no claim has been received after notices to the customer. 

The State Controller’s Office then holds the property but an unclaimed property may only be returned to an individual or agency, including government entities, after the filing and verification of a claim by the State Controller’s Office. 

AB 1637 eases the process by authorizing “the State Controller to transfer property being held in the name of a state or local agency to that agency without the need to file a claim by the agency. 

“Since the identity of a state or local agency is not likely to be in question, there seems to be little chance of property being erroneously transferred to the wrong owner under the provisions of this bill,” according to the bill analysis. 

Since January 2019, the State Controller’s Office was holding 48.1 million properties, including nearly 100 in Santa Clarita, with an estimated worth of $9.3 billion. About 293,000 properties, worth approximately $31.3 million belong to government agencies.  

The new law received bipartisan, unanimous support, including from other legislators representing the Santa Clarita Valley, from the state Assembly and Senate.  

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