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.
On Wednesday, Planned Parenthood announced a plan to invest $20 million in the 2018 midterm elections, the organization’s largest midterm campaign effort yet.
The electoral battle plan initially targets gubernatorial and Senate races in eight states—Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—with plans to expand to other states and smaller races. Of those states, the campaign’s newly unveiled website pledges to focus its energy on “key races” in Nevada, where many consider Republican Senator Dean Heller to be vulnerable; Pennsylvania, where Democratic Governor Tom Wolf faces re-election; and Wisconsin, where Planned Parenthood wants to help oust Republican Governor Scott Walker and re-elect Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin.
Citing Democratic successes in Alabama and Virginia in 2017 that were thanks in large part to the mobilization of women voters, particularly black women, Kelley Robinson, Planned Parenthood’s national organizing director, said the organization hopes to capitalize on that political momentum and “channel the activism” of its 11 million supporters.
Recent years have seen Planned Parenthood transform itself from a woman’s health organization to a massive political force under the leadership of Cecile Richards, who announced in late January that she would be stepping down as president. In 2017, as supporters fought against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and defund the organization, Planned Parenthood launched an organizer-training program, with volunteer “boot camps” intended to strengthen an activist network across all 50 states.
“This year,” Planned Parenthood Press Secretary Ben Halle told the Prospect in an email, “we’ll be turning to our volunteers to help us continue to fight against attacks against Planned Parenthood and access to health care, to work in their communities to educate and engage people on these issues, as well as help us win at the ballot box in 2018.”
A new national poll of voters with disabilities released this week spotlights a dramatic shift in their political leanings toward Democrats. Numbering in the tens of millions, voters in the disability community boast a huge political and electoral power that could prove decisive in this year’s midterms. Yet for a group with such potentially significant electoral strength, remarkably little attention has been devoted toward learning more about their political behavior.
The poll, conducted by Greenberg Research for the nonprofit RespectAbility, reveals that more than half of registered voters identify as being a part of the disability community, whether they have a disability themselves, or they have family or close friends with disabilities. And signs point to this sizable population’s support shifting to the Democrats.
People with disabilities have on average a more negative opinion of President Donald Trump, and by a 16-point margin favor the Democratic candidate in a generic 2018 congressional ballot. “The biggest negative feelings toward the Republican Congress is among people with disabilities,” said pollster Stan Greenberg during a teleconference briefing on Tuesday. This hasn’t always been the case—in 2014, they broke for the Republicans by 11 points, and were split in 2016. “Something is happening that’s affecting the kind of even split, the swing-voter status of people with disabilities,” Greenberg added.
While their swing toward the Democrats reflects a similar nationwide anti-Trump shift, recent events—such as disability rights groups’ highly publicized protests in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office over threats to the Affordable Care Act last summer—could be pushing these voters to the left. And in the weeks since the poll was conducted in January, lawmakers have done even more to alienate disabled voters. On February 12, the White House released its 2019 budget, which cuts funding for federal disability programs. That same week, the House voted to pass the ADA Education and Reform Act, which would gut key protections in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The 16-point Democratic advantage is especially notable when considering that voters with disabilities are, according to the poll, heavily working class and five times as likely to be unemployed and looking for work—and more likely to be “extremely interested” in the 2018 midterm elections. “There’s all kinds of reasons why these views and needs should be important to all political leaders and opinion informers, but some of that is self-interest,” said Greenberg.
The poll also measured the views of voters with disabilities on the GOP tax cut (half strongly oppose) and the ACA (they view it more favorably than people outside the disability community). But because of sample-size limitations, the poll was not broken up by race or gender, nor were certain historical comparisons available (for instance, how those voters with disabilities felt about the ACA in 2014).
Lauren Appelbaum, the communications director at RespectAbility, which works to get disability included in major national polls the same way race and gender is, says that the stigmatization of disability is a major reason that community is largely ignored by policymakers and strategists. Considering the political opinions of people with disabilities “is definitely something that pollsters should be doing,” Appelbaum told the Prospect. “This poll really shows that people should be paying attention.”
No area is safe from plunder in the Trump era, even decades-old laws as seemingly untouchable as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Congress is expected to vote on the ADA Education and Reform Act this week (H.R. 620), which has already passed the House Judiciary Committee. Don’t be fooled by the “reform” in the bill’s title—H.R. 620 would gut key ADA protections for people with disabilities, all in the name of defending business.
For decades, businesses have used vague language in the ADA to seek favorable court rulings, claiming at various times that providing “reasonable accommodations” would constitute an “undue burden” on their finances—forcing people with disabilities to financially justify their rights in a way no other marginalized group has to.
But for Republican sponsors of H.R. 620, this doesn’t protect businesses enough. The bill requires complainants to notify a business of an accessibility violation in writing, then gives that company a full 60 days to respond, and another 120 days to make changes.
And instead of requiring actual compliance with ADA standards, H.R. 620 simply mandates that those changes show “substantial progress” in that direction. As Rebecca Cokley, the senior fellow for disability policy at the Center for American Progress, says, “Businesses could be claiming ‘substantial progress’ for decades.”
“Businesses have had 27 years to learn about and conform to the ADA’s requirements,” wrote Samuel Bagenstos last September after H.R. 620 passed through committee. “Rather than protecting legitimate business interests, the bill … would give a reprieve to enterprises that have had 27 years to comply with the law but have not yet done so.”
Supporters of H.R. 620 claim that the bill protects businesses from unprincipled lawyers and “drive-by lawsuits.” But Cokley points out that state courts and bar associations are equipped to deal with frivolous lawsuits. “H.R. 620,” she says, “is further evidence of the war on marginalized communities’ access to public accommodations. If this was any other community, we wouldn’t be talking about taking their rights back.”
(Photo: J. Scales) Adele M. Stan P rospect columnist Adele M. Stan has won the 2017 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, an award that since 1950 has been dedicated to recognizing journalism in the service of social and economic justice. As 2016’s divisive presidential election unfolded, Stan offered real-time, weekly analysis of the campaign and the confluence of forces that paved Trump’s road to the White House. Her two decades of experience reporting on and researching the American right wing gave her the insight and confidence to say what many political commentators, settled complacently behind incorrect prediction models, wouldn’t: that Donald J. Trump could win the presidency. “You know what else does not add up?” Stan asked liberal readers clinging to hopeful electoral numbers in May 2016. “The denial of the ways in which the system can be gamed or hacked, a rack of new voting laws, and the possibility that pollsters are not able to account for all the people who...