US House Takes Aim at ADA Public Access Provision
By Lynn Shapiro, Staff Writer
Civil rights activists argue that blaming predatory “drive by” lawsuits brought by opportunistic plaintiffs’ attorneys—spotlighted in national news reports-- was a dirty trick used by House legislators last week to create new barriers for plaintiffs’ lawyers who might file suit against business owners for refusing to comply with the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) handicapped access compliance provision.
If the largely symbolic bill, which has no change of winning 60 votes in the Senate, were to pass, business owners would get away with failing to install elevators, wheelchair ramps, and special bathrooms, granting disabled people the right of access to all public areas: including restaurants, movie theaters, libraries, hotels, and bathrooms.
When Trump’s hotels were found to be in violation of ADA access rules, he characteristically tried to shift the blame to his architects. More about this later.
Burden of Proof Shifted to the Disabled
The newest House assault against the plaintiffs’ bar is called the “American Disabilities Education and Reform Act of 2017.”
It would “require potential plaintiffs to notify businesses that aren’t in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act before filing a lawsuit,” according to Roll Call.
“As originally written, it would give the businesses six months to make substantial improvements in their facilities.
“An Amendment shortened that time to four months,” Roll Call wrote.
“Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union warned the changes would shift the burden to people with disabilities who aren’t able to access public spaces instead of businesses in violation of the ADA. They also expressed skepticism that businesses need more time to comply with a law that was enacted in 1990,” writes Christina Marcos, for The Hill.
You’re Gutting ADA
“You’re Gutting ADA,” protestors in wheel chairs chanted in the House Visitors Galley last week, after the House voted by a partisan 225-192, with 12 Democrats voting to roll back the ADA protections,” Marcos writes.
“Capitol Police escorted protestors out of the visitors’ gallery, many of whom were in wheel chairs, chanting ‘Hands off ADA.”
One disabled legislator on hand for the protest was Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.).
“Langevin became paralyzed at the age of 16 after a bullet from a gun that accidentally discharged struck him during a Boy Scout program with a police department,” Marcos writes.
“He noted that his accident occurred a decade before the ADA became law [in 1990, under President George Herbert Walker Bush] and recalled how he struggled with being unable to access places like restaurants, libraries, movie theaters, restrooms and his first-choice college that lacked accommodations for people in wheelchair,” he said, according to Marcos.
“Has Congress really become so divorced from the human experience of the disability community that we’re willing to sacrifice their rights because its’ easier than targeting the root of the problem? Are people with disabilities, people like me, so easily disregarded?” Langevin asked.
Senator Tammy Duckworth: Double Amputee Iraq War Veteran
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill), a double amputee Iraq War veteran, also supported disabled Americans.
“If you don’t live with a disability, you might not think of ADA violations as significant at 1st glance, but I assure you they’re significant for those of us who do live with disabilities,” ‘Duckworth said, according to Marcos.
“The measure would also require the Justice Department to create a program for educating governments and property owners on how to enhance accommodations for people with disabilities,” Marcos writes.
One Notable Republican
One notable Republican opposed the bill: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference and the mother of a son with Down syndrome.
“The ADA was enacted more than 25 years ago to protect the disability community, and as part of that community, I could not in good conscience vote for this bill,” she said in a statement.
House of Reds
“All this bill does is require those unscrupulous trial lawyers to do what ethical lawyers already do: give fair notice of a violation before thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees are racked up against a small business, diverting money from where it belongs,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte,(R-Va,)” Marcos reports.
Marcos notes Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), the author of the legislation, stated:
“This bill makes businesses comply. Puts them on notice. If they don’t comply within the time period, then file the lawsuit.
“Go after them. But business should be able to have the notice of what the problem is so that they can fix it, which is the goal of the ADA.”
Rep Langevin countered on the House floor, “The idea that places of public accommodation should receive a free pass for six months before correctly implementing a law that has been a part of our legal framework for nearly three decades creates an obvious disincentive for ADA compliance,” Marcos writes.
President’s Disregard of the Law
The Huffington Post’s Ben Walsh writes that Donald Trump’s properties were sued at least eight times for disabilities violations. He only won once, when both sides decided to settle.
“When a disabled Purple Heart veteran filed a lawsuit in 2004 alleging that the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York lacked proper handicapped-accessible emergency exists, guest rooms and restrooms. Trump dragged the case out for three years. He tried to get the lawsuit dismissed and counter-sued his own architects to try and shift liability to them, but a judge dismissed that attempt,” according to Walsh.
Trump eventually settled and agreed to make changes to the hotel.
“Still, after Trump mocked a New York Times reporter with arthrogryposis [a congenital joint disease] last November, the reality TV star defended himself by pointing out how much money he’d spend on accessibility in Trump’s hotels,” Walsh writes.
“I spend millions a year or millions of dollars on ramps,” he said in July “and get rid of the stairs and different kinds of elevators all over and I’m gonna mock? I would never do that,” Trump said, according to Walsh.
Spending money on handicapped facilities is a legal requirement under the ADA, Walsh points out, not an altruistic action, as Donald Trump pretends it to be.