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Democrats pan bill curbing lawsuits by people with disabilities

Andrew Siddons, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Democratic leaders are actively opposing a bill scheduled for a vote in the House later this week that they say would undermine a landmark law providing protections for Americans with disabilities.

The bill would make it harder for disabled individuals claiming discrimination in places such as hotels, restaurants or private schools from filing suit against the business under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The bill would require victims to notify the businesses about a violation and give the business 180 days to show its intent to comply before the lawsuit can be carried out. The bill's opponents argue that the effect would be to discourage businesses from complying with laws requiring them to be accessible.

At a Rules Committee hearing on Tuesday evening on the measure, protests erupted from observers in the meeting room. Chants of "don't take our rights away, hands off the ADA," from observers interrupted the hearing and the chairman called a recess subject to the call of the chair.

Even though the bill has 11 Democratic co-sponsors, the party's leaders are urging Republicans to pull the bill before an expected vote on Thursday.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, sponsor of the House version of the 1990 disability rights law, said that the bill would "remove any incentive businesses currently have to comply with this long-standing civil rights law and undermine protections that allow millions to live independently and in the dignified manner they deserve."

The bill's supporters say its purpose is to help small businesses who are attempting to adhere to the law by giving them more time to comply.

"Well-intentioned small business owners are targeted with predatory lawsuits that don't allow them to make changes to their stores or workspaces before they get buried with legal fees," California Rep. Scott Peters, one of the Democrats sponsoring the bill, said when it was introduced in July.

 

The bill appears likely to pass in the House, but it seems unlikely to garner the 60 votes it would need for passage in the Senate. On Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the assistant minority leader, called the bill "misguided, harmful, and an embarrassment." She urged the House to reject it.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who uses a wheelchair, articulated what the disability protections meant to her in an op-ed in The Washington Post last October.

"Being unable to independently enter a movie theater, store, hotel or restaurant is not only humiliating, it limits the freedom to pursue certain jobs, to access necessary services and to enjoy basic conveniences that most Americans don't think twice about."

She wrote that businesses who support the bill "often do not dispute that they are violating the law. Rather, they simply resent being sued for what they believe are 'minor' ADA infractions."

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