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H.R. 620: ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017

A bill which just passed the House would update the law for disabled Americans for modern times, say Republicans. Democrats say it would set disabled Americans’ civil rights back decades.

Context

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, more commonly called the ADA, was a landmark law. It outlawed discrimination in employment, housing, or other areas on the basis of the applicant being disabled. It also required most businesses and buildings to accommodate disabled people, with features such as mandatory wheelchair ramps.

The law’s components were hardly controversial among Congress members at the time, passing the House 377–28 and the Senate 91–6. Yet in the decades since, most Republicans contend that provisions of the law have been exploited by anti-business lawyers to an unforeseen extent — the number of such lawsuits has almost tripled since 2013. Three examples provided in an opinion column for the The Hill include:

  • A Florida art supplies store sued for a toilet paper dispenser not placed at the correct height
  • A Colorado restaurant sued for incorrect position of urinals in the men’s restrooms, supposedly resulting in the restaurant’s closure
  • A Georgia hotel sued for not having a swimming pool lift, even though the plaintiff had supposedly never even visited the hotel.

What the bill does

The ADA Education and Reform Act aims to crack down on such lawsuits, by amending the existing 1990 law to require a “notice and cure” period.

The legislation would require that any person claiming discrimination must first provide written notice, allowing 60 days for an owner to acknowledge receipt of the complaint, plus an additional 120 days before legal action can be initiated. No other civil rights legislation currently on the books contains such a provision.

The bill was introduced in January 2017 by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX2), a member of the House Judiciary Committee where the bill was originally sent. The bill is H.R. 620.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill will crack down on frivolous lawsuits that benefit trial lawyers more than disabled Americans.

“Certain attorneys and their pool of serial plaintiffs troll for minor, easily correctable ADA infractions so they can file a lawsuit and make some cash. There is a now whole industry made up of people who prey on small business owners and file unnecessary abusive lawsuits that abuse both the ADA and the business owners,” House lead sponsor Poe said in a press release.

“This bill will change that by requiring that the business owners have time to fix what is allegedly broken. If they fail to correct the infractions the plaintiff retains all of their rights to pursue legal action. This legislation restores the purpose of the ADA: to provide access and accommodation to disabled Americans, not to fatten the wallets of attorneys.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the bill would significantly hamper disabled Americans’ abilities to remedy ADA violations.

“This bill reverses decades of progress by undercutting our ability to assert our rights under the law through the use of a ‘notice and cure’ provision. But justice delayed is justice denied,” Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI2), the first quadripalegic ever elected to Congress, said in a press release. “Businesses should not be encouraged to ignore the law until someone complains, which is exactly what this legislation does.”

“I’m deeply concerned that this bill will bring our country back to the days when discrimination was commonplace.” Langevin continued. “And I am saddened that Congress sent a message to people with disabilities that we are not equal, or worthy of the same civil rights protections as others.

Democratic amendment vote

An amendment offered by Langevin aimed to omit the bill’s requirement that a person claiming discrimination must first provide written notice, allowing 60 days for an owner to acknowledge receipt of the complaint, plus an additional 120 days before legal action can be initiated.

The amendment failed by 188–226. Republicans largely opposed by 15–215, while Democrats largely supported by 173–11.

If the amendment had passed, several other provisions would have remained intact for the legislation, including a section that would make it harder for a plaintiff to bring a civil suit regarding a business’s failure to remove an architectural barriers for disability access.

Votes and odds of passage

The bill attracted 108 cosponsors: 97 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

It passed the House by 225–192 in early February. Republicans voted largely in support by 213–19, while Democrats were largely opposed by 12–173.

A previous version introduced in July 2016 never received a House vote. It attracted 59 cosponsors: 56 Republicans and three Democrats. While that’s a sizable number, it was dozens fewer than the current version has attracted.

Last updated Feb 20, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 15, 2018.


ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017

(Sec. 2) This bill requires the Disability Rights Section of the Department of Justice to develop a program to educate state and local governments and property owners on strategies for promoting access to public accommodations for persons with a disability. The program may include training for professionals to provide a guidance of remediation for potential violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

(Sec. 3) The bill prohibits civil actions based on the failure to remove an architectural barrier to access into an existing public accommodation unless: (1) the aggrieved person has provided to the owners or operators a written notice specific enough to identify the barrier, and (2) the owners or operators fail to provide the person with a written description outlining improvements that will be made to improve the barrier or they fail to remove the barrier or make substantial progress after providing such a description. The aggrieved person's notice must specify the circumstances under which public accommodation access was denied.

(Sec. 5) The Judicial Conference of the United States must develop a model program to promote alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve such claims. The model program should include an expedited method for determining relevant facts related to such barriers and steps to resolve accessibility issues before litigation.