Keeping an eye on Washington D.C. is stressful for Minnesotans with disabilities. Worries about the future of Medicaid are combined with fears for the future of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Groups including the Minnesota Council on Disability, the American Civil Liberties Union and Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) are alarmed about the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017. Disability rights advocates contend that the legislation isn’t reform, and would roll back rights and inclusion.
As of Access Press deadline, the bill was passed by the House Judiciary Committee. It could go to the House floor at any time.
Title III of the ADA allows people with disabilities to file lawsuits against business owners who don’t provide reasonable accommodations. Businesses found to be in violation don’t pay monetary damages, only attorney’s fees. Business must provide injunctive relief, to correct the violation. Businesses are only required to provide accommodations when doing so doesn’t present an undue burden, and when changes are technically feasible and affordable. Federally funded resources have long been in place to help businesses comply.
In recent years attorneys have slapped businesses with lawsuits demanding damages. Critics contend the lawsuits only force businesses to pay the attorneys and don’t address access issues. DREDF contends that just 12 individual attorneys and a single disability law firm were responsible for more than one-third of all Title III lawsuits filed in 2016, accounting for more than 100 cases each.
The legislation would weaken consequences and remove incentives outlined under Title III. It also wouldn’t eliminate frivolous lawsuits by attorney’s seeking damages rather than access improvements.
“The bill’s backers are forgetting the everyday experiences of millions of people with disabilities who cannot shop, transact personal business, or enjoy recreation like most people can take for granted, because so many public accommodations across the country have ignored the reasonable requirements of the ADA,” a DREDF alert stated. “The ADA is the difference between participation and exclusion on a daily basis. Why should a wheelchair user be unable to join her family at a restaurant, just because the owner has resisted installing a ramp for 25 years?”
The current legislation would require a person with a disability who encounters an access barrier to send a written notice spelling out exact ADA provisions violated. It also would give 60 days to acknowledge the problem, and then another 120 days to begin to address it. DREDF stated that no other group would wait 180 days to have civil rights enforced. “Even then, the business would face no consequence for violating the law for months, years, or decades, if it takes advantage of the months-long period to remedy the violation before a lawsuit is permitted.”
A business would get six months to make “substantial progress” in removing barriers. “This means a business could spend years without actually removing barriers to come into compliance with longstanding access standards, and face no penalty, so long as ‘substantial progress’ can be claimed. Even our largest and most ubiquitous corporation —from Wal-Mart to Starbucks—would be entitled to these exemptions” DREDF stated.
Medicaid woes continue
The This is Medicaid coalition to raise awareness to threats to the funding, which under the name Medical Assistance provides services for more than one million Minnesotans.
In late October the House approved a tax and budget blueprint that allows for tax cuts to add up to $1.5 trillion to the nation’s deficit. That would create enormous pressure to dramatically cut areas of the federal budget such as Medicaid. This same budget blueprint allows for a $1.8 trillion cut over 10 years to Medicaid, Medicare and care under the ACA.
Members last month called on Congressman Erik Paulsen to protect Medicaid, speaking at Hammer Residences in Wayzata. “If the U.S. House is going to reduce taxes by trillions of dollars, I am worried that it will pay for them by cutting Medicaid,” said Hugh Kirsch, board member and parent advocate for Hammer Residences. “The services my adult son receives here to live independently come from those Medicaid dollars. I urge Rep. Erik Paulsen to keep my son in mind as he deliberates over any tax cuts that primarily benefit American’s wealthiest.”
“Children with disabilities need health care, therapies, and early education services funded by Medicaid to grow and thrive,” said Julie Sjordal, CEO of St. David’s Center for Child & Family Development. “They shouldn’t have their services jeopardized – either now or in the near future — by bearing the cost of tax cuts.