The House judiciary committee has voted to move forward with a bill that could roll back some Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protections. 15 members of the committee voted to advance the bill, nine voted against it. Now that it has gone through markup, the bill will go to the floor of the House of Representatives, where it will go to a vote. The time and date of the vote have not yet been scheduled.
The ADA Education and Reform Act (HR 620) was put forward by Representative Ted Poe (R-Tex.). It has been cosponsored by 40 House Republicans and 11 Democrats. This legislation would amend the ADA to add a 120 day waiting period between when a business is notified of an ADA violation and when the person reporting can take the case to court. During that 120 days, businesses would be expected to fix or “make substantial progress” towards fixing a reported accessibility problem.
What precisely “make substantial progress” means isn’t clear. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), one of the most vocal critics during markup, noted that since “substantial progress” isn’t defined in the bill, what it means would be left to the courts. This could lead to significant expenses for disabled people who wish to have accessibility barriers corrected so they can use a place of business. Rep. Conyers also noted that a law requiring notification could make businesses less likely to work towards improved accessibility without a complaint being made. Another opponent of the bill, Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) pointed out “To require 120 days to comply when businesses have had 27 years to comply,” seemed unnecessary. The ADA was passed 27 years ago with bipartisan support.
Representative Poe asserted that his bill has, “nothing to do with access and everything to do with shakedowns,” referencing that one of his daughters is in a wheelchair several times over the course of the markup. He feels that predatory lawyers are using false or insignificant ADA violations to attack small businesses. Additionally, he argued that if a business is not accessible, the invisible hand of the market would simply drive it out of business.
Critics of the bill, such as Senior Policy Analyst Dara Baldwin of the National Disability Rights Network, assert that HR 620 would create significant obstacles for disabled people to enforce their rights to go about their business in the community. Susan Mizner, Disability Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told NOS Magazine that “HR 620 would make it virtually impossible for people with disabilities to assert their right to access. It creates even more burdens on the individual with disabilities to identify, educate, monitor and pursue access, and creates incentives for businesses to do nothing, until someone with a disability spends all of that time, money and effort to force them to comply with the law. This means too many in our community will remain segregated and stigmatized – unable to socialize with friends at a restaurant, go to the movies with their family, or even receive services at the nearest doctor or dentist office.”
Despite a packed agenda including tax reform, appropriations, the debt ceiling, and incoming midterm elections, multiple advocates indicated that the legislation may be moved to the House floor this month. You can still contact your congressional representative and share your feelings about this legislation before it goes up for a vote. There is still time to make your voice heard. Find out if your congressional representative is co-sponsoring the bill here.