Business Groups are Thrilled; Disability Advocates are Unhappy
In a rare bipartisan action, the Legislature and Governor Brown worked together to craft new legislation in an attempt to move the state forward in bringing more businesses into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). SB 1186, co-sponsored by Senate President Darrel Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) was passed with overwhelming support from both parties and signed by the Governor in September.
The major provisions of SB 1186 are:
bans “demand for money” letters,
requires attorneys to send a notice letter at least 30 days before filing a lawsuit
prevents “stacking” of multiple claims to increase monetary damages
significantly reduces damages against business owners who correct alleged violations within 60 days of receiving a complaint
requires landlords to disclose whether their buildings or properties are state-certified and in compliance with ADA laws
“We are extremely pleased that Gov. Brown recognized that disabled access lawsuits are out of control and that change was needed,” said Kim Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, an industry-sponsored advocacy group.
“This bill should provide some relief to small business owners who are making good faith efforts to comply and it should help rein in unscrupulous plaintiffs’ lawyers who have been exploiting the Americans with Disabilities Act for financial gain,” Stone said.
Sen. Steinberg said SB 1186 is a compromise that applies a “common sense approach” to resolve difficult issues.
“The whole point of our state and federal disability access laws is to remove barriers for the disabled, giving them full and equal access to businesses like everyone else. Up until now, unfortunately, it was often cheaper and quicker for business owners to settle out of court than to remove those obstacles,” he said. “SB 1186 will instead provide more incentives to fix the violations and enhance accessibility.”
While acknowledging many good points in the new law, representatives from Californians for Disability Rights were concerned with several provisions. Businesses can now claim ‘good faith’ attempts to comply with the ADA in new and remodeled projects that fail to meet standards. In so doing, they will be given reduced penalties and additional time when they may have failed to consult with professionals versed in the ADA prior to attempting modifications. These reduced penalties may work to incentivize non-compliance.
Since the passage of the ADA in 1990, 50% tax credits have been available to encourage businesses to move forward with providing the legally required access to disabled people. Businesses and government have had 22 years to move into compliance. With such a high level of financial support and 22 years since passage of the ADA, advocates rightly want to know the fundamental question, “If not now, when?”
Disability advocates are concerned that business interests are using this issue of alleged “renegade attorneys” to disguise core opposition to the ADA itself. “If you can’t criticize the law, then go after the attorneys,” said Tony Goldsmith, civil rights attorney and member of the legislative committee of Californians for Disability Rights.
At the bottom of the food chain are the people living with disabilities who sincerely wish to experience full access to all the U. S. has to offer. To conflate the issue of the actions of a few attorneys with the desire of disabled people to assert their rights is to risk diminishing public support for the requirements of the ADA. People living with disabilities also want to experience freedom and independence. Enforcement of the ADA is essential to the realization of the dream. The independent living movement takes this issue seriously. We hope that the compromise worked out in this law translates into moving many more businesses into providing the full access required by the ADA as envisioned by the authors of the law.
The bill is an urgency measure, meaning it will take effect immediately.