All credit for this story belongs to East Valley Tribune. To view this story on their website: Flake bill gives way for businesses to get out from ADA lawsuits
By Jim Walsh, Tribune Staff Writer — Posted Oct 3, 2016
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake wants businesses to correct violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act by installing more handicapped parking spaces and taller signs, rather than spending more money to settle “serial” lawsuits filed by a foundation.
Flake, R-Ariz., introduced a bill last week that would amend the ADA, a landmark civil-rights law, to create a “notice and cure” provision that would give businesses up to 120 days to correct ADA violations once they have been notified.
The bill also directs the U.S. Justice Department to create a plan to educate state and local governments and businesses about the ADA and how to comply with its requirements.
“Such program may include training for professionals such as Certified Access Specialists to provide guidance about remediation for potential violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990,” Flake’s bill reads.
In an interview with a television reporter released by Flake’s office, Flake said he is trying to protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits, which he described as a “racket,” while also helping the disabled by increasing compliance with the ADA.
“We are trying to get people to comply with the law and do something good here instead of lining the pockets of these trolls,” Flake said.
He said businesses “want to comply with the law, but they don’t want to be shaken down” through attempts to collect out-of-court settlements of up to $7,500.
“We are trying to give them time to cure the problem,” Flake said.
But Phil Pangrazio, president and CEO of Ability/360, a non-profit social service agency that serves disabled residents from throughout the Valley, said Flake’s bill sounds similar to others that have failed.
He said the bill might actually backfire by giving businesses no incentive to comply with a law that has been in effect for 26 years until they have been served with a complaint.
“The idea of giving them 120 days notice to comply when they’ve had 26 years makes no sense,” Pangrazio said. “Why should they do anything until someone makes a complaint?”
But John Moore, president and CEO of Mesa’s Marc Community Resources, which also aids the disabled, said he believes that most businesses would comply with the ADA after they are notified of a violation.
“In general, I am in favor of notice and cure and education,” Moore said. “I’m more of a practical person. I think 75-80 percent of people would want to comply.”
He said he is not sure if he favors the specific requirements of Flake’s bill and he would like to consult with Pangrazio and others who serve the disabled about whether there might be better solutions to obtaining a higher level of compliance.
The ADA’s purpose is to give disabled people access to all public buildings through the installation of handicapped parking spaces, wheelchair ramps and other facilities designed to eliminate physical barriers.
The generally well-respected law suddenly became controversial earlier this year when Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities filed at least 1,300 civil lawsuits against businesses, many of them in Mesa, accusing them of violating the ADA.
The suits generally cited a lack of adequate handicapped parking spaces, spaces too small to accommodate a van for the handicapped, or signs that were too low.
Although Moore is opposed to the foundation’s tactics in filing so many suits, “I do think there has been some good come out of it” through higher awareness of the ADA, even if a notice would have been a nicer way to accomplish the same goal.
Peter Strojnik, an attorney for the foundation, has accused the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Justice Department of failing to enforce the ADA, leading to a complacent attitude by businesses toward the law.
But Strojnik’s efforts to enforce the law through the lawsuits angered businesses, who felt the foundation’s primary motivation was to raise revenue.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office first received permission from a judge to intervene in a test case. The judge later granted a motion to consolidate more than 1,100 cases. The Attorney General’s Office said the ultimate aim is to file a motion to dismiss the suits.
– Reach Jim Walsh at 480-898-5639 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.