House Accused of ‘Turning Back the Clock on Disability Rights’ With Latest Vote

Posted: Feb 15, 2018 2:05 PM
House Accused of ‘Turning Back the Clock on Disability Rights’ With Latest Vote

On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted to pass H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017. The American Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 in order to prevent employment discrimination against those with disabilities. H.R. 620 would enforce a new provision that individuals cannot pursue lawsuits against business owners unless they are given written notice and fail to respond with improvements or to make substantial progress after six months. It passed 225-192.

Civil rights groups are opposing the move, arguing the new legislation weakens the rights of those with disabilities. Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, explained why today's vote was "shameful." She is also the former head of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

“Today’s vote to weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act is shameful," Gupta said in a statement. "That key civil rights law has helped remove barriers for nearly three decades. Yet, this so-called reform act would lead to the continued exclusion of people with disabilities from the mainstream of society and would turn back the clock on disability rights in America. Congress should be making it easier, not more difficult, for people with disabilities to lead independent lives.”

A day before the vote, the group wrote a letter to House leadership urging them to reject the legislation.

"H.R. 620 would impose a burdensome process before people with disabilities could file a civil action for an accessibility violation in a public accommodation case," Gupta warned.

Disrupting the compromise between business owners and people with disabilities “would upset this careful balance and dramatically shift the burden to access public accommodations from businesses to discrimination victims,” she added.

Supporters of the ADA Education and Reform Act push back at this narrative. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), for instance, said the legislation is a “victory for the disabled community and business owners alike” because "they will be able to have non-ADA-compliant properties remedied swiftly, without incurring the high costs and lengthy wait times of litigation."

This new provision will still force businesses to comply with concerns, but they should at least be given a heads up if they're being sued, argued the bill's author Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX).

"If they don’t comply within the time period, then file the lawsuit," he said. "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.”

As the vote got underway, so did the protests. They were reportedly so disruptive that they prevented the planned moment of silence in the House for the high school victims in Parkland, Florida.

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