I haven’t seen much about HR 620 lately except on Twitter where people are rightly concerned about it. The following is a brief explanation of the bill, which would needlessly take away civil rights in order to combat very minor business expenses.
On September 7, the House Judiciary Committee passed it out of Committee. The bill is a new low for a Congress that has already set a terrible standard of taking away rights in the name of freedom. From the bill summary:
The bill prohibits civil actions based on the failure to remove an architectural barrier to access into an existing public accommodation unless: (1) the aggrieved person has provided to the owners or operators a written notice specific enough to identify the barrier, and (2) the owners or operators fail to provide the person with a written description outlining improvements that will be made to improve the barrier or they fail to remove the barrier or make substantial progress after providing such a description. The aggrieved person’s notice must specify: (1) the address of the property, (2) the specific ADA sections alleged to have been violated, (3) whether a request for assistance in removing an architectural barrier was made, and (4) whether the barrier was permanent or temporary.
The Judicial Conference of the United States must develop a model program to promote alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve such claims. The model program should include an expedited method for determining relevant facts related to such barriers and steps to resolve accessibility issues before litigation.
Robyn Powell wrote about what the law would mean for access violations quite movingly for Rewire back in May. Below is some of the explanation about the law.
The ADA Education and Reform Act is premised on trying to curb “drive-by” ADA lawsuits: that is, frivolous lawsuits brought by attorneys alleging ADA violations. Surely, serial litigators, attorneys who simply bring lawsuits to line their pockets, must be stopped. However, these bills are not the solution.
To be fair, I vehemently oppose frivolous ADA lawsuits, where people seek to use the ADA for their own monetary gain. I cherish this law and hate hearing that some misuse it. However, it’s important to note that they are not as prevalent as some believe. An analysis of ADA lawsuits in 2016 identified just 12 individuals and one organization that have filed more than 100 lawsuits each. But frivolous lawsuits are not an ADA issue; they are a state and court problem. Indeed, ethics rules bar attorneys from bringing frivolous lawsuits. Rather than go after people with disabilities, attention should be focused on stopping these few bad attorneys.
Notably, passage of the ADA and ADA Amendments Act involved the disability community and bipartisan lawmakers working together with the business community. These “notification bills,” however, do not. Rather, they are the result of business owners and their lobbyists.
The article goes on to explain exactly why targeting the ADA does nothing to help supposedly aggrieved businesses.
It is also important to dispel the myth that ADA lawsuits can be profitable for plaintiffs; that is plain wrong. When the ADA was being drafted, as a compromise between the business community and the disability community, the disability community gave up the option to obtain damages for a business’s failure to comply with the law by allowing only injunctive relief—meaning the business owner has to change their behavior—and attorneys’ fees.
Settlements or court orders that involve money damages for accessibility violations are based on state laws in a handful of states, not the ADA. Therefore, adding a notice requirement before people with disabilities can enforce their rights will do nothing to prevent businesses from being subjected to money damages. Moreover, if the accessibility violations in question are truly minor, as the proponents of these bills claim, it would not be difficult for businesses to fix the problem and resolve the issue quickly, with minimal attorneys’ fees. Hence, the issue is not an ADA one.
It is of crucial importance that we stand with the disability community and fight this bill. It is unnecessary and will not solve the problem it purports to address.
To take action, please check out this resource page by the AAPD.