Senate Democrats Warn Mitch McConnell: Don’t Try to Weaken the ADA

Senate Democrats Warn Mitch McConnell: Don’t Try to Weaken the ADA

On Thursday, 42 Senate Democrats joined Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois to pledge to block a vote on the ADA Education and Reform Act (H.R. 620), a House bill that would gut the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act by weakening enforcement provisions that ensure accessibility in public accommodations.

In a signed letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Democrats noted that the supposed purpose of H.R. 620—to prevent “drive-by” lawsuits—is not actually addressed by the bill, since the ADA does not permit monetary relief in the form of damages or settlements. Instead, H.R. 620 gives businesses 120 days to make “substantial progress” toward complying with the law, and only after the business has received written notice from an affected person with a disability. When the ADA was passed, as the letter says, “[t]he expectation was that businesses would make themselves accessible before people with disabilities showed up … rather than waiting until receiving a notice that people with disabilities have been excluded before starting to think about complying with the law.”

Duckworth, who lost her legs while serving in Iraq, wrote a Washington Post op-ed in October 2017 condemning H.R. 620, and spoke against it on the House floor in February, just before it passed that chamber on mostly party lines. Proponents of H.R. 620 include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the retail and hotel industries, which claim that the bill protects businesses from complaints over minor ADA infractions. “We reject in the strongest terms,” wrote the senators, “the offensive suggestion by supporters of H.R. 620 that a civil rights violation denying access to a public space could ever be ‘minor.’”

Disability-rights groups have been vocal in their opposition to H.R. 620, which McConnell could bring up for a vote at any time. The letter, signed by 43 Democratic senators (all except Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Bill Nelson of Florida) signals to McConnell that the coalition has enough votes to filibuster any attempt to bring H.R. 620 to the floor.