Laws and jobs

An ADA workshop, and some more big changes at CN&R

I was happy to read that the local disabled community had shown up en masse to a recent public meeting about lawsuit abuse.

Congressman Doug LaMalfa and Sen. Jim Nielsen were there, lamenting how lawmakers have opened up a cottage industry for attorneys interested in exploiting laws, such as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

And there’s definitely some truth to that. Certain attorneys have specialized in going after ADA violations, but with the goal of a payday, rather than actual compliance. They would send “demand for money” letters to businesses, asking for legal fees and a settlement amount without noting specific violations. Last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law (Senate Bill 1186) banning “demand for money” letters and also requiring that a list of alleged violations be sent to business owners 30 days in advance of filing a suit.

This reform may finally be curbing abuses, but the damage to the reputation of the ADA is done. That’s why it’s important to remember the intention of the landmark 1990 civil-rights law: to prohibit discrimination against the disabled. Among other things, the ADA requires that most public facilities be compliant with guidelines ensuring the disabled have access.

LaMalfa, speaking to those gathered at the forum, called the law vague. But he was out of his league.

As local civil-rights activist Karen Duncanwood stated articulately in a CN&R story this week, the law is complex, not vague. “The reality is that disabilities are complex, our local communities are complex,” she said. Duncanwood, whose son is disabled and who marched on Washington decades ago in support of the ADA, pointed out that most of the disabled public are interested in compliance, not lawsuits.

Another disabled-rights advocate echoed her. “We just want what we need as far as accessibility—being able to reach things, being able to get into [businesses], and also being treated fairly,” the woman said.

There’s nothing vague about that.

Go to Newslines (“Litigation blues,” by Howard Hardee, page 10) to read the rest of the story.

Speaking of Hardee, savvy readers will notice that he has a new title. In addition to continuing his good work leading certain special projects, Hardee’s been promoted to assistant news editor, lending his editing skills to Newslines, in addition to writing for the section.

Hardee came to the CN&R back in the summer of 2010 as an intern. He was a University of Alaska Fairbanks student finishing up a year-long exchange program at Chico State. The next summer, following graduation, he headed back down to Chico and into a job as the CN&R’s calendar editor.

Mallory Russell, a Chico State student finishing up her degree in fine arts, is picking up where Hardee left off on those calendar duties. Russell is plugged in to the local arts and music scenes, so she’s a great fit for the position.