by Melanie Brunson
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have held hearings during the last month on a number of hot topics, but to date, neither chamber has passed much legislation of interest to veterans or people who have disabilities.
One significant exception to this statement occurred when the House of Representatives passed H.R.620, the ADA Education and Reform Act, a bill which most of the disability organizations, and many of the veterans’ service organizations, opposed.
This bill seeks to make it harder for people to file frivolous lawsuits against businesses claiming they are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and are therefore discriminating against customers who have disabilities. If this bill becomes law, a person with a disability who wishes to sue a business for discrimination will first be required to send a letter containing very specific details about the discrimination and notifying that business that it is out of compliance with the ADA. The business will then have 60 days to respond and 120 days to make “substantial progress” toward fixing the problem. Only if the business fails to acknowledge the notification or make substantial progress in fixing the violation, can the business be sued.
This bill raises several concerns. First, it basically removes any incentive businesses had under the ADA to comply with its provisions. Business operators can simply ignore accessibility considerations and then wait until someone sends them a letter notifying them of specific noncompliance issues to insure their business is accessible to people who have disabilities. Second, none of the other laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals based on gender, age, or race contain similar requirements. This puts people who have disabilities in a separate class and creates disadvantages for them, even if they have legitimate complaints. Finally, the ADA has been in effect since July of 1990 and it is hard to imagine business operators don’t have adequate opportunities to inform themselves about its requirements after so much time has passed.
There is no similar bill in the Senate, so this bill can now be sent to that chamber for consideration. At present, it does not have the level of support in the Senate that it had in the House. We will keep an eye on this legislation and report on any changes to its status if they occur.
The next issue will contain more detail on BVA’s testimony before the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs, on March 14. Members of BVA’s National Legislative Committee will also be meeting with individual members of those committees and their staffers, as well as key officials at the VA during the previous week. The purpose of all of these meetings is to discuss BVA’s legislative priorities for 2018. These are determined by the resolutions passed during the BVA National Convention and any additional positions the national Board of Directors may choose to take during the year between conventions. We will give you more information about these priorities in our next report. If you are interested in receiving additional updates on legislative issues, please send an e-mail to email@example.com and put the words “Legislative E-mail List” in your Subject line.