Next week the House of Representatives will vote on a bill that is set to deteriorate the civil rights of millions of people with disabilities. The erroneous titled bill: The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620) should it pass will be the first time a civil rights law has been weakened legislatively. We usually strengthen these laws through legislative work. In the past civil rights laws have been weakened through the judiciary (courts). One was the Voting Rights Act, which was weakened by the Supreme Court in the case of Shelby V. Holder in 2013. (ADA = Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990)
I have written a three part series on why, I along with every disability rights group, millions of people with disabilities, their family members and many disability rights advocates oppose this horrible legislation.
There is a Change.org petition created because many of the letters of opposition sent to congress were for organizations to sign. I received a number of contacts from individuals who wanted to sign on as well. So I created an active space for individual voices who oppose this bill to sound off: Don’t Tread on My ADA is up and currently has 17,159 signatures. I send this to congress weekly and will send again on Monday the 12th at 12pm ET! Please send all you know to sign on!
*Look for other resources below!
A bit of history on these ADA Notification bills and why they are moving now in the 115th.
Let me start with why now? Well I know those of you reading this post who are staunch advocates/activists know why – so I will be short and simple. There is Republican leadership in both the House and Senate with an Administration that will sign such a bill. The number of hate crimes against those of us who are marginalized in society – Immigrants, people of color, LBGTQIA, multi-faiths (specifically Muslims), Women, children/young adults of color, poor people, People with Disabilities and on… have been on the rise and are at the highest levels in decades. We have White Supremacists hosting riots in the streets where they brutalize and kill innocent people with little to no arrests or any authority holding them accountable. We have hate and racists statements coming from the highest office of the land and the most powerful position in the world; with little to no condemnation or accountability by not only congress but also the corporate media mogul machine. There have been multiple bills passed in this congress that are set to destroy the progress that decades of activism created; the rights we cherish every day.
I have been working on disability policy since 2009 and worked on ADA Notification since that time. It was not until I went to work for the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) that this was a number one priority for me to work. I currently work on this and it is a top priority in my current position.
Once given this task I did some research on this. I had never heard of ADA Notification bills and did not understand what they were and how harmful they were to the law. The first of these bills appeared in 2000 in the 106th Congress (1999-2000) with The ADA Notification Act (H.R 3590) introduced by Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL). It garnered 23 Cosponsors – 22 Republicans and 1 Independent. There was actually a hearing on this bill. This is unusual because of the low number of cosponsors but this bill was supported by the business community so as they say “money talks…” They were afforded a full House Judiciary Committee (HJC) hearing. From what I hear it was historical and infuriating to be in that room.
Inclusion Daily Express has a wonderful archive of what happened over the years from 2000 – 2006 at: http://www.inclusiondaily.com/news/access/notification.htm
The business community brought in the “big gun” the Hollywood multi-award winning actor, writer, director, producer Clint Eastwood. Although he has played the ultimate moral high ground hero in multiple movies in real life he is what we call “foe”. He went into the hearing and denounced the ADA as a law and civil right and touted the rights of business owners to be exempt from creating accessibility. He was not only insulting in the hearing but later that evening he went on TV to spout his disgust with the law – thank you Chris Matthews and MSNBC for always getting it right.
Let’s remember this is the same man who brought out a chair and talked to it on the stage at the 2012 Republican National Convention in a mocking conversation where he assailed then President and candidate Barak Obama. See Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=933hKyKNPFQ
**A Thought: I am ecstatic about and a staunch supporter of the #MeToo movement – have LOVED Tarana Burke for years. But I can’t wait for Hollywood to start outing the many racist, homophobic and all other hate mongers who are in powerful leadership positions in that valley of stars. (Please keep Clint Eastwood at the top of that list – thank you)
The supporters of this bill were from all over the country. But later on it would be California Representatives who took the lead on this work. Specifically the member from the 42nd District of CA which in (2003-2013) covered Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties in Southern California. The Republican member in that district introduced an ADA Notification bill in every congress since the 106th. Then a deal was created that the Representative moving on made with the new Reps, promising they would introduce this bill each congress.
These bills were introduced over and over again never moving. There were more hearings but no actual legislative movement. There are many reasons that explain why the bills did not move: the House was a Democratic majority and there were people in the White House who would never sign such a bill into law. Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush (although a Republican his father signed the ADA into law) and Barak Obama. The supporters of ADA Notification did what expert lobbyists do, introduce a bill even though you know it is not going to go anywhere or be passed. It’s called creating history and preparing for the time it is right to get your bill to the President’s desk. This is the epitome of strategy, skill and patience.
Currently the 42nd District of CA is represented by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) and those district lines have changed. But so did something else, the reason Calvert did not introduce a bill in the 115th which was the movement and progress of what is now H.R. 620.
HISTORY: Let’s go back to the beginning
H.R. 620 was H.R. 3765 in the 114th Congress (2015-2016) and it was the first time in long time, a Representative outside of the CA caucus introduced a bill. The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2015 had a new name, branding and was introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). They took out the word Notification – great strategy – they changed the perception of the legislation. Who wouldn’t support education and reform.(This strategy is called “Cloak and dagger” – cloak bad legislation in good terminology)
Not only was Poe the new person to do this but he had much more power than the other sponsors. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) one of the few current members of congress who worked on the passage of the ADA was stepping down as the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He also has a close connection to many in the disability rights movement. Sensenbrenner allowed hearings but nothing more in his committee. His successor was none other than Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) a supporter of all the other ADA Notification bills.
Notable Fact: The ADA was signed into law on July 26, 1990 in the 101st Congress. That was 28 yrs ago this coming July. The make-up of congress has changed and the number of members in office back then has seriously decreased and is currently 33. There are 14 US Senators, some of them were in the House in 1990 like Chuck Schumer. Sen. Hatch will leave at the end of this year bringing that number down to 13. There are currently 19 House of Representatives members who were here in 1990.
Back to H.R. 3765
Rep. Poe is a powerhouse not only in the House Judiciary Committee but in congress – he’s from Texas. He is also good friends with the now Governor of Texas – Greg Abbott. There was a Republican majority in the House and they were betting on a flip in the Senate and the White House. And they like me won their bets. (I bet a few here in DC that the Senate would flip and that DT would be your next President and I was of course laughed at by many but collected my earnings on November 9, 2016)
Many call this the perfect storm. When “the stars align” for a cause and it is the ripe time to move a legislation that will forever change history. I had the pleasure of working on the reauthorization of The Violence Against Women’s Act of 2013 (VAWA) and it was that same feeling back then. We needed some Republicans to support this bill but they would not, because of provisions they did not like. Those provisions were the ones that would help Immigrants, Native Americans and the LGBTQ community.
Hurricane Sandy had come up the East Coast and destroyed parts of CT, NJ, NY and PA. The Republicans in the House refused to fund the disaster relief program set up to assist the millions of people trying to recover from this horrific storm. Well the Republican caucus from CT, NJ, NY and PA were “pissed off.” So we used that anger to get them and one Republican Woman (S. Capito now a Senator – WV) 19 in all to sign a letter supporting the passage of VAWA with all the provisions. It was with that fuel in our fire that we prevailed along with the amazing mobilization and hard work of millions of survivors, activists, advocates and policy makers the reauthorization of VAWA 2013 passed.
I continue to express to my fellow activists in the movement, that this phenomenon goes both ways. Unfortunately the perfect storm winds blow the other way and set the sails of our foe right into victory; for example the tax bill that just passed in December of 2017. All of the regulatory repeals happening in this congress. (But not the repeal of ACA! YESS – ADAPT)
In the 114th Congress Poe introduced H.R. 3765 in October 2015 and in three months it had a cosponsor named, Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA). It is important to note that in the 114th Peters was also a member of the House Judiciary Committee. By May 2016 this bill had 5 Democrats on as cosponsors. Copsonsorship of a bill tells congressional leadership that should this bill go to the floor they will vote yes. At the end of the 114th there were 59 Cosponsors 56 R’s and 3 D’s.
This was the first time Democrats in the House showed support for an ADA Notification bill. Which sent off alarms for me! I am a policy wonk but at the core of this work is analysis and I am a Master Analyzer (does this exist)!
H.R. 3765 was one of the harshest ADA Notification bills introduced since 2000. The title of this bill was not the only new language but Section 3 of this bill basically said if someone filed a claim incorrectly they would be charged with a criminal act and fined. For those of you who don’t believe that lawmakers – your elected representatives – participate in creating statute that is intentionally criminalizing normal every day activity – pay close attention.
Listen to what Section 3 of H.R. 3765 said: should you file a claim or law suit to fight for your civil rights and it is done incorrectly you will be charged with a criminal act and fined. Normally these types of claims are done by “everyday” people who are trying to enter a public entity – store, restaurant, theatre etc. – not by legal eagles who know the ends and outs of filing these claims. Business owners you should be ashamed of yourselves.
Here is where Governor Abbott comes into play. Many were unaware of the governor’s disability because he demands that he is not photographed in his wheelchair. But after the horrific hurricane season of 2017 in TX he had no choice. Those cameras were rolling and he had to be out there making those speeches. He has a real problem with the ADA – just read some of his work and comments during his political career in Texas. Yes even though he is a person with a disability. He is not alone in this school of thought. Well when some disability rights advocates in Texas read H.R. 3765 they let it be known that Abbott tried to pass the same bill during his term as the 50th Attorney General of Texas.
His attempt failed because even Texas Republicans said we are not going to criminalize people for fighting for their civil rights.
But when Abbott became Governor he hit up his buddy Poe with the support of the main business lobbyists group supporting this bill International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) to introduce this in the House of Representatives. (Read about them in Part II of the Attack in the ADA)
H.R. 3765 was one of three ADA Notification bills introduced in the 114th. Remember Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) 42nd District had to fulfill his promise to introduce his bill. And for the first time in 15yrs and 9 congresses a Democrat introduced a bill. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) introduced the COMPLI Act of 2015 H.R. 4719 with no cosponsors. He garnered none throughout the 114th. He did not seek the input of disability rights advocates or policy makers and his bill was one of the bad ones. He had language that basically said business owners could be able to put up signs and tell people “sorry we are not accessible yet come back in….”
So here we are in the 114th congress with three ADA Notification bills and one introduced by a powerful member of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Goodlatte chair of the HJC follows rules of order and asks Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and chair of the HJC Subcommittee Constitution and Civil Justice to hold a hearing on H.R. 3765. But remember now the Republicans are in control. The hearing is stacked with about 6 support witnesses for H.R. 3765 and they allow 3 witnesses for the Democrats. Then Rep. Goodlatte breaks the rules of order and places H.R. 3765 on the docket for a mark-up hearing in the full House Judiciary Committee, skipping over actions or report from the Subcommittee.
The mark-up was held on July 7, 2016. If you have not watched this proceeding, it is a must see. It will shed light onto why this bill is moving and how ill-informed many House members are about people with disabilities. *Warning there are a number of offensive things said. The members (almost all Republicans) continuously say “how the disability community needs this”; “this is best for the disability community”. Paying no attention to the opposition letters sent to congress saying the opposite. Those letters have over 200 disabilities, civil, human and environment rights and faith base groups have signed. (THANK YOU) The Democrat House Judiciary Committee members were amazing in the mark-up, especially the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members. There was one glimmer of hope and that was to show congressional leadership that this bill does not have bipartisan support. We had to get all the Democrats in committee to vote no.
In the 114th the Democrats had majority in the senate and there was a Democrat in the White House. So the Republicans were under more pressure to show that the bills they wanted to move to a full vote on the House floor had bipartisan support.
Much to disability rights advocates disappointment the vote of course went the Republicans way final count (15-6). The Committee had 23 Republicans and 16 Democrats. Many Democrats did not even show up for the hearing. And there was one lone Democrat who voted in favor of the bill; remember Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA)? Yup he made it possible for the supporters of this legislation to say they have bipartisan support in the committee. It must be stated here that Rep. Sensenbrenner left the mark-up without making a statement about the importance of the ADA and he did not cast a vote.
This was yet another historic event for an ADA Notification bill. Again not in 15yrs and 9 congresses had one of these bills: 1. Be on the docket for mark-up and 2. Actually be voted out of committee and heading to the House of Representatives floor for a full vote. Then the Alarm bells were loud but still not strong enough.
Although even if this passed in congress President Obama would have never signed this into law. This is how you work a bill so that you have legislative history and when the time is ripe you can get your legislation moved and to the President’s desk who will sign into law. It’s a part of the perfect storm needed to move those sails.
The final observation in the 114th Congress (15yrs & 9 congresses) the first senate companion bill was introduced. There are a few states around the country who are passing or have passed these horrible ADA Notification bills (for another post). In 2016 the state of Arizona started its process with an introduction of such a bill. Back in the US Senate there was a first term senator who was trying to get from under the shadow of his senior senator, which was damn near impossible. He was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and he was at that time preparing for his re-election to the senate, so having the business community happy and excited about him fit right into his next step plans. Can you guess who introduced that companion bill?
Yes – Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2016 S. 3446 was introduced on September 28, 2016. The language was identical to the reported out of committee version of H.R. 3765. Oh yeah – the House Judiciary Committee did strike that horrific language in Section 3 of H.R. 3765. It seems they did not want to criminalize people for fighting for their civil rights.
The only reason H.R. 3765 did not go to the full House floor for a vote was that it was the end of a congress and there were more important things that had to get done. Republicans knew if they passed this there was no way it would become law. Sen. Flake introduced S.3446 knowing that it would never move because of the lack of time on the senate calendar. But what he did was get on record that the first ADA Notification bill was introduced in the senate. And then November 8, 2016 happened and that people was the game changer for the possibility of an ADA Notification bill becoming law of the land.
End of Part I – the story continues in Part II
What can you do? THANK YOU for any help you can give
*You can reach out to your House of Representative member and tell them to vote NO for this bill.
Use this Alert from NDRN on H.R. 620: http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/51104/p/dia/action4/common/public/?action_KEY=24265
You will notice the Salsa alert also calls for people to contact their Senators as we increase our advocacy over there.
You Can fill out the Change.org petition: Don’t Tread on My ADA – and tell all you know to do the same: https://www.change.org/p/dara-baldwin-don-t-tread-on-my-ada-vote-no-for-ada-education-reform-act-of-2017-h-r-620
For resources and information you can go to CCD Save the ADA Website: http://www.c-c-d.org/rubriques.php?rubpage=43
My Three part series: Don’t Tread on My ADA –
Part III: https://thewiyatt.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/dont-tread-on-my-ada-a-three-part-series-on-the-attack-on-the-ada-in-the-115th-congress-h-r-620-part-iii-media-coverage-and-state-work-on-weakening-the-ada/
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