February 17, 2018 11:18 PM
Controversy is swirling around a proposed new law that would give businesses written notice and more time to improve access for the disabled.
Under current law, lawsuits can be brought against a business with no prior notice.
The new bill, H.R. 620, is known as the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017.” It would require written notice before legal action could happen.
However, those living with different abilities worry it would put more burden on them and give business owners less incentive to come into compliance.
The Center for Disability Rights states the bill “strips away the rights of disabled people. The legislation was passed despite the warnings that this legislation would eliminate incentives for businesses to comply with the law.”
“People in society don’t understand we are just trying to live, and work, and enjoy ourselves in the community. And that’s what this is, being denied access,” said Ericka Jones with CDR. She expressed concern over giving businesses months to come into compliance, saying it would limit access for a portion of the population during that time.
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter spoke against the bill, saying in part, “I think it threatens the civil rights of persons with disabilities.” She added, “the end result of this bill will limit access to public spaces, access supposed to be guaranteed by ADA law.”
Representative John Katko also expressed his opposition. Stating in an email to News 10 NBC, “the Americans with Disabilities Act is a landmark law that prohibits discrimination based on disability and ensures that individuals of all abilities are treated fairly. I believe Congress must firmly protect it. I could not support the legislation before the House yesterday because it was overboard and had the potential to unfairly burden individuals in our community living with disabilities.”
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Ted Poe, believes it would improve access and reduce abuse pointing to 'drive-by lawsuits' which can often force small businesses to close.
In an op-ed, Mr. Poe references recent cases including an art supply store being sued for a toilet paper dispenser at the incorrect height, a restaurant forced to close because of incorrect positioning of urinals in is restroom, and a hotel being sued for not having a pool lift even though the pool was permanently closed.
“These serial plaintiffs shake down business owners who are forced to either settle or go to court. In many cases, the plaintiffs issue demand letters that threaten to bring a lawsuit for an ADA violation unless the business pays them ot drop the lawsuit,” wrote Mr. Poe in is op-ed.
He goes on to claim attorneys are taking advantage of the current law, often times not ever visiting the business in question.
“There should be consequences for businesses that fail to comply with the ADA, but the law’s purpose is being threatened by attorneys looking to cash in,” he stated, believing the bill will help increase access and decrease abuse of the law.
Jones disagrees, saying, “what it comes down to is disabled persons are being punished by the wrongdoings of these lawyers. They ought to go after the lawyers and not the rights of the entire disability community.”
Congressman Chris Collins stated, “this is a common sense piece of legislation that protects businesses against frivolous lawsuits brought on by individuals looking to profit and their expense. It is important for all businesses to comply with regulations put in place under the ADA, although many times business owners don’t know about an infraction and are at risk to be unfairly targeted. Instead of jumping into expensive lawsuits that sometimes put individuals out of business, this legislation allows owners a reasonable amount of time to fix a problem before getting sued.”
Congressman Tom Reed also made a statement to News 10 NBC, saying, ““this bipartisan bill makes it easier to fix facilities for disabled individuals, enhancing their quality of life. The legislation prevents time and money being spent on frivolous lawsuits that only benefit lawyers and do nothing to correct the problem. This bill enhances disability rights by making it quicker for buildings to comply with current law.”
The House of Representatives recently passed the bill. It will now head to the Senate.
Updated: February 17, 2018 11:18 PM
Created: February 17, 2018 06:46 PM
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