Had my first experience on the Hill last week. On Wednesday, I attended a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, hearing testimony related to bill H. R. 3566. H. R. 3566 is a bill written by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) which, the author claims, will address some predatory ADA lawsuits which have been targeting small businesses in his state of California. The bill would require notification to the business owner and a wait period of up to 120 days before a lawsuit could be filed against the place of public accommodation not in compliance with ADA. This notification and hold period, will, proponents argue, allow businesses to come into compliance without having to face a lawsuit which could put them out of business.
Opponents of the Bill argued that the measure will promote a further lack of enforcement of an already chronically under-enforced law – the ADA. As Mr. Andy Levey, witness against the bill said, the measure will make voluntary implementation of ADA standards extremely unlikely, since without threat of immediate lawsuits, businesses will have no incentive to comply with the law before they receive a letter notifying them of a violation. But Lungren’s testimony and the other Republican witness, recounted stories of small businesses forced out of business by lawsuits they could not afford, filed by lawyers who had little interest in accessibility and were rather making a career off of class-action lawsuits aimed at small businesses.
Like so much of Politics, it was not until the smoke and posturing cleared that I was actually able to make some sense of what I had witnessed. Talking it over with one of my colleagues at the National Council on Disability, a couple key issues came to light. While one of the key arguments for the bill was based on the fact that small business owners did not have an understanding of ADA regulations, there was nothing in the current bill to address this information problem. Also, while Rep. Lungren said the bill was designed to address small “mom and pop” businesses, the law is, in fact, not limited to small businesses and could, if passed, have wide-sweeping implications for corporations as well. Also California has in fact gone above the federal standard with regard to ADA, and allows damages for those not in compliance. This fact, is in part behind the predatory lawsuit problem in that state.