Disability rights advocates are sounding the alarm against H.R. 620, a bill designed to make it harder for people with disabilities to sue under the 27-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act. The bill was voted out of the Judiciary Committee on Sept. 7, and now moves to the floor of the House of Representatives where it will likely be voted on in the coming weeks.
Sponsored by Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, the bipartisan bill would require a person with a disability who is illegally denied access by a business to notify the offending business in writing of the specific violation. That business would then have 60 days to acknowledge receipt of the complaint, and a further 120 days to make “substantial progress” in removing the barrier.
The bill, however, contains no definition of “substantial progress.”
Proponents claim H.R. 620 is designed to stop so-called “drive-by lawsuits” by serial litigants seeking financial gain rather than the actual removal of barriers to access. However, the ADA’s Title III, which deals with public accommodations, does not allow for monetary damages unless the case is brought by the Department of Justice. Some states, such as California, which has a number of representatives that co-sponsored H.R. 620, do have laws allowing for monetary damages, but this bill, ironically, would have no affect at all on those laws.
“There are ways to address the problem of unscrupulous attorneys without placing the burden on individuals with disabilities,” says James Weisman, president and CEO of United Spinal Association, who argues the bill is unnecessary as, “there are established and tested avenues to address the lawsuit issue. Courts and state bar examiners have the tools needed to shut down unscrupulous lawyers through sanctions, disciplinary measures and other steps.”
Additionally the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities sent a letter signed by 232 disability organizations to the House Judiciary Committee that asks, “If, after 27 years, a business has continued to not comply with the requirements of [the ADA], why should a person have to wait more time for enforcement of their civil rights? Should an individual who is not allowed to enter a restaurant because of their race, gender or religion, have to wait before seeking to enforce their civil rights?”
“Title III of the ADA already reflects a compromise that takes into account the concerns of businesses; it does not allow individuals to seek damages for violations of their civil rights. Now legislation like H.R. 620 seeks to further erode the civil rights of people with disabilities,” concludes the letter.