Lowering the Bar

House votes to roll back Americans with Disabilities Act protections

National News Newsletter Professional Practice
A group of disability advocates protesting for the passage of the original Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. (Tom Olin)
A group of disability advocates protesting for the passage of the original Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. (Tom Olin)

In a 225-192 vote yesterday, the House voted to pass a bill that would make it more difficult to sue for discriminating against the disabled. H.R. 620, or the ADA Education and Reform Act was supported overwhelmingly by Republicans and 12 Democrats.

First introduced by Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) in 2017, H.R. 620 would require businesses that aren’t in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to be given written notice of their non-compliance, as well as six months to make improvements, before legal action could be sought against them.

“This bill makes businesses comply,” said Poe, according to The Hill. “Puts them on notice. If they don’t comply within the time period, then file the lawsuit. Go after them. But businesses 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.”

The bill was ostensibly written to cut off overly litigious law firms who were pursuing ADA lawsuits for cash without even visiting properties, but disability advocates warned that it would shift the burden of proof to the disabled. Businesses would have 60 days to respond to a written notice with an action plan, and another 120 days to implement the changes before being deemed culpable.

The ADA was originally passed in 1990, and advocates have argued that 28 years is more than long enough for businesses to comply with the law. In an open letter signed by over 200 groups, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities describes the bill as a giveaway to business owners, saying:

“The burden of protecting the right to access a public place is shifted to the person with the disability, who first has to be denied access; then must determine that violations of the law have occurred; then must provide the business with specific notice of which provisions of the law were violated and when; and finally, the aggrieved person with the disability must afford the business a lengthy period to correct the problem.”

Disability advocates have been out in full force to oppose the bill’s passage, including a protest in the Capitol where ten activists were arrested on February 13. It’s unclear whether H.R. 620 will be able to pass through the deadlocked Senate.

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