October 15, 2015

EDITORIAL: Governor vetoes bill protecting businesses from ADA abuses

By The Press-Enterprise Editorial Board / The Press-Enterprise

Despite bipartisan support, legislation to protect small business owners and enhance compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Senate Bill 251, proposed by Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, took a sensible, balanced approach to the problem of widespread noncompliance with the ADA’s often confusing and minute requirements.

Failure to abide by the mandates of the well-meaning disability rights law has too often been exploited by serial plaintiffs for purely financial motives. SB251 would have given small business owners an opportunity to correct some of the most common, and the most minor, violations of the law.

It would have given small businesses 15 days from the date of written notice to correct small issues, like improper signage and parking lot paint condition, without being subject to statutory penalties. In California, the seemingly inconsequential, like the precise dimensions of parking spaces, can be considered civil rights violations, thus entitling litigants to at least $4,000 under the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

In an effort to be more proactive about ADA compliance, the bill would have allowed businesses with less than 100 employees that have received an inspection from a Certified Access Specialist 120 days from the date of the inspection to correct ADA violations without penalties. It also would have provided tax credits, with a five year sunset, of 10 percent of eligible access expenditures up to $10,250 annually.

The bill did not prevent individuals truly harmed by ADA violations from seeking damages nor did it protect businesses that choose to remain out of compliance.

While SB251 unanimously passed the Senate and overwhelmingly cleared the Assembly, Gov. Brown vetoed it on peculiar grounds.

“Despite strong revenue performance over the past few years, the state’s budget has remained precariously balanced due to unexpected costs and the provision of new services,” he said in his veto message. “Given these financial uncertainties, I cannot support providing additional tax credits that will make balancing the state’s budget even more difficult.”

In response, Sen. Roth said he was “baffled” by Gov. Brown’s reasoning. “The disabled community and small business owners agreed the tax credit was a wise and prudent part of this proposal,” he said. “Neither side raised any issue of concern with it over the course of our year-long negotiations.”

It is disappointing that a common sense bill like SB251 could be vetoed despite widespread support. Without it, California business and property owners will continue to be victimized by serial plaintiffs abusing the ADA purely for financial gain.


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