Vote Notes: H.R. 620, The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017
The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by President Bush in 1990. It was a well-intentioned measure designed to give those with disabilities greater access to many things that most of us take for granted. I believe that makes sense. Unlike so many other countries around the world, equality is one of our founding principles…and accordingly, this notion of equal access based on disability is an important thing.
But like any law, this doesn’t mean it’s perfect or was handed down from God on a tablet. It was simply a good law with good intent, but in some instances, it has been taken advantage of. Specifically, some trial lawyers and firms across the country have submitted scores of lawsuits against businesses for not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It seems their intent was not about access for disabled, but in many cases, the goal was a quick settlement and the profits that came with it. The abuse was so overwhelming of some provisions that 60 Minutes did a segment this year on what was occurring, and in it, they showed lawyers in California filing Americans with Disabilities Act complaints simply after noticing violations by going online via Google Earth.
So, H.R. 620 was designed to thwart some of the more egregious lawsuits tied to Americans with Disabilities Act claims. This means that one could be given a chance to rectify something found wrong, rather than simply facing penalties and legal claims without any chance of making things right.
That struck me as reasonable, and for that reason, I voted yes. The measure passed 225 to 192.
In these kinds of things, it’s important to remember that reform does not mean repeal. Most any law can be made better because they are indeed man-made instruments. And all laws should be improved when they’re being used as tools by someone in the legal community not to bring about change, but to primarily instead aim to extract fees.
Specifically, the bill stems from a dramatic increase in Americans with Disabilities Act Title III lawsuits from so-called “drive-by” lawsuit. Since 2013, the number of these lawsuits has more than tripled without a corresponding increase in either the disabled or new dwellings that would fit this bill.
I also believe that when one sees lawsuits primarily aimed at smaller businesses, it suggests to me that something outside the structure of the law itself may be at play. In California for instance, 75% of the businesses targeted by these types of lawsuits were immigrant or minority-owned. Unfortunately, these demographics are more unlikely to be familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act standards as well as their own legal rights.
The bill would simply allow private businesses the opportunity to fix any problems within their establishment before being sued by a plaintiff, in these cases, someone with a disability. And if the owner doesn’t make the required changes within 120 days to ensure their business is Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, then the plaintiff would have legal grounds to sue. This indeed strikes me as reasonable.
To give you a sense of how these lawsuits have been expanding in the federal court system, take a look at this chart.