By The Press-Enterprise Editorial Board | The Press-Enterprise
Business owners and the disability community scored a notable victory last week. The California Assembly approved Senate Bill 251 Thursday, expanding protections of small business owners from frivolous lawsuits and providing greater opportunities for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
“I am pleased the Assembly approved my commonsense measure to increase compliance with the ADA law,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, in a statement. “SB251 gives businesses the tools, resources and education necessary to comply with the law and increase access for all Californians.”
When the ADA was signed into law, the purpose was to expand access for millions of Americans to public and private spaces. Setting aside any reservations about federal mandates on private property owners, the law is well intended and has contributed significantly to enhancing the quality of life for many.
Unfortunately, 25 years after its passage, compliance with the ADA has been inconsistent. Many business owners simply seem unaware of the many requirements of the law, which governs everything from the dimensions of doorways and doorknobs to the height of sinks off the floor.
Given all the challenges just to get a business started, it is no surprise so many businesses technically are out of compliance.
In states like California, this has prompted an entire industry of unscrupulous serial plaintiffs seeking minute violations and cashing in.
That’s because the Golden State pairs the federal ADA with the state’s own Unruh Civil Rights Act, resulting in any violation of the ADA being considered a civil rights violation, thus allowing large sums to be awarded to plaintiffs.
“The law was never intended to be abused by greedy plaintiffs and trial lawyers – who manipulate members of the disabled community, who manipulate small business owners – for reasons that have nothing to do with increasing access,” said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, on the Assembly floor.
SB251, approved unanimously by the state Senate in June, creates the presumption that certain technical violations, like improper signage, don’t “cause a person difficulty, discomfort or embarrassment” if the business is a small business and all technical violations noted in a complaint are corrected within 15 days.
Further, businesses with less than 100 employees are protected from liability for minimum statutory damages for 120 days after seeking an inspection by a Certified Access Specialist, allowing businesses the opportunity to identify and fix violations. The bill is a reasonable step in the right direction, and we hope Gov. Jerry Brown signs it into law.