BY RICHARD K. De ATLEY | The Press-Enterprise
A bill to help small businesses fix access violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act while dampening costly litigation has advanced in the state Legislature.
The bill, SB 251, is primarily authored by State Sen. Richard Roth, a Riverside Democrat. The bill was unanimously approved by the California Senate on Wednesday, June 4 and heads to the state Assembly.
It was created after numerous small-business owners in Riverside were hit by a wave of ADA violation lawsuits in recent years. Merchants complained of having to hire attorneys and pay damages in addition to the cost of fixing the violations.
The bill provides for education, resources and training about handicap access for businesses, as well as providing state tax credits equal to 50 percent of expenses to bring handicap access into code at qualified small businesses.
It also establishes procedures that will give small businesses a time cushion of 15 or 90 days – depending on the kind of work required – to fix notified ADA violations before facing a lawsuit and its minimum statutory damages.
The correction time allotment starts within the date of inspection of the business by a certified access specialist.
About 600 certified, or CASp, inspectors are available in California to investigate access and compliance at businesses. They are privately hired, and costs are variable with such factors as the size of business.
“SB 251 is a critical step in guaranteeing access for disabled Californians by providing small businesses with the tools and resources necessary to comply with often changing and at times complex disability access laws,” Roth said in a statement.
David Kuma, owner of Kuma Tire & Wheel in Riverside’s Magnolia Center, was hit by an October 2013 lawsuit that demanded $12,000 in damages, as well as a disabled parking space.
He paid $1,000 for an attorney and another $7,000 to settle with the San Diego-based law firm that sued him. The parking space, which he painted and signed himself, cost about $300, he said.
On his own, he later put in a handicap-access ramp and door latch and truncated domes, even though those were not part of the lawsuit. He said he would have done all the fixes without a lawsuit, if someone had just pointed them out.
“It sounds like it is at least helping the small business person, and saving them from getting blindsided by a lawsuit – and giving them time to fix it,” Kuma said of the bill on Thursday.
He said the tax credits would act “as an incentive for people who haven’t done improvements yet.”
Kuma was less certain about the bill’s time cushions. “You can’t get permits in 90 days” when pushed against coming up with plans and contractors for some jobs, he said.
The bill also would require the California Commission on Disability Access to provide a link on its website to that of the Division of the State Architect’s CASp certification program, “and make the commission’s educational materials and information available to other state agencies and local building departments.”
The bill’s other primary sponsor is Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, a Stockton Democrat. The Republican co-sponsors are Sen. Joel Anderson of Julian and Sen. Jim Nielsen of Chico.