In a vote of 225-192, the House of Representatives passed the ADA Education and Reform Act on Thursday, February 15, 2018. The bill—which is also known as H.R. 620— would limit the ability of people with disabilities to raise claims under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If passed by the Senate and signed by the president, the bill would bar claims alleging architectural barriers in existing public accommodations unless the business is first provided written notice, given 60 days to respond, and then given an additional 120 days to make “substantial progress” toward remedying the violation.
Because the bill as passed by the House applies only to architectural barriers, it would not affect the recent wave of litigation centered on inaccessible websites, to non-architectural barriers to accessibility, or to other claims of discrimination under Title III.
The bill would also establish a program to educate business owners and state and local governments on how to improve accessibility for individuals with disabilities. The program would be overseen by the Justice Department’s Disability Rights Section.
The vote was largely on partisan lines, though 19 Republicans voted against the bill and 12 Democrats supported it. Thirteen Representatives (five Republicans and eight Democrats) were not present for the vote.
The bill had been strongly opposed by disability rights groups. In September, over 200 groups signed a joint letter opposing the measure.
“We know of no other law that outlaws discrimination but permits entities to discriminate with impunity until victims experience that discrimination and educate the entities perpetrating it about their obligations not to discriminate. Such a regime is absurd, and would make people with disabilities second-class citizens,” the letter read.
Disabilities rights advocates packed the House visiting gallery on Thursday, several of whom were removed by Capitol Police after chanting “hands off my ADA!”
Members of Congress with disabilities were also passionate in their opposition to the bill. “The idea that places of public accommodation should receive a free pass for six months before correctly implementing a law that has been a part of our legal framework for nearly three decades creates an obvious disincentive for ADA compliance, said Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who was the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress.
Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a double-amputee, took to Twitter to encourage her colleagues in the House to reject the bill.
Supporters of #HR620 don’t deny that they’re violating the law—they just resent being sued for “minor” #ADA infractions. But an incline that is “only” a few degrees too steep, or an entrance that is “only” a few inches high, can determine if I’m able to access an area w/out help
— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) February 15, 2018
Proponents of the bill, however, have argued that it would minimize frivolous lawsuits.
“This bill makes business comply. 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,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.).
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Cal.), one of the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors, agreed. Speier noted that she had “witnessed too many rip-off artists in California that are in it for just making a buck.” “I want public places to be accessible to persons with disabilities. I want them fixed, and I’m not interested in making a few attorneys rich, and I’m not interested in gotcha stuff. I just want them to be accessible,” Speier said.
“All this bill does is require those unscrupulous trial lawyers to do what ethical lawyers already do: give fair notice of a violation before thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees are racked up against a small business, diverting money from accessibility where it belongs,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
Having passed the House, the bill now heads to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. Because the bill would be subject to filibuster, it would like need the support of nine Democratic senators. Senate Democrats, however, have largely been hostile to the bill thus far.
Level Access will continue to follow the ADA Education and Reform Act as it heads to the Senate for consideration and will keep you posted with updates.
This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.