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THE NBW YORK TIMES WBDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19
Blank Check for the Disabled?
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It Sounds Great, but What's It Mean?
Congress in writing bills thus few peo pielease of all, its Members under. stand or can aplain.
The latese example is the 1999 Americans with Disabilities Act, which the Senate passed by a 76-vote on Sept 1 and which the House is a. pected to approve before lawmakers complete business this year. The bill is well-intended, addresse i legitimate and serious nacional problem and sets fools with which few people can dis agree But its brond prescripcions are so ambiguous and potentially over. reaching that federal judges quite likely will struggle for years to define what the law means and how to coforce it
The problem is not unique to the disabilities bill, which is this year's top priority of the civil rights lobby. Nors vague or sloppy drahsmanship cooined to one party, one chamber or one set of issue
In the month since enactment of the saving and loun bailout ball, for eample, lader omcials charged with onforcing that law have disagreed over the intent of key sections. A reason for the moder press and public reaction to the child care bill passed by the Senate in June has been that for persons can decipher its wide-ranging provisions And Congress Lately has been torn by consutuent unhappiness over last year's law expanding medicare coverage for catastrophic illnesse; one cause evidency has been that few bene ficiaries understood tbe law's scope or what it would cost tber
la seking to bar discrimination against disabled Amencans- und there are as many as 43 million, it's stimated-beckers of the bull have a serabled a powerful coalition. The thusiasts include President Bush, wbo has had a long standing interest in the disabled Sanate Minory Lade Rob en Dole R-Kan, whore crippling wartime injury led to his creation of a foundation to help the disabled Senate Labor and Human Resources Coomittee chairman Edward M. Kan nady, D-Mas, whose family has long supported related causes and former House Majority Whip Toay Coelho DCalif., an epilepes who has coatin wed his advocacy of these ima since resigning his post in June
Ana Kennedy's pand unanimously approved the bill on Aug 2 stal aides
a job applicant who is disabled. The bill would require firms to make "ra. sonable accommodations for disabled employees, unless that obligation would place an "undue hardship" on a business Asked during the debate whether this would require a firm to provide a full-time reader for a new employee who is blind, Tom Harkin. D-lown, who chairs the Labor-Sub committee on the Handicapped, said:
If it is IBM, perhape that is not a big deal. But if it is a small pharmacy ... that's a different story."
The bill's standards appear more sweeping than those in earlier civil nights statutes or in laws protecting the disabled. And, although the bill would exempt business with 15 or fewer workers from its provisions on employment, it has draw opposition from small-business proup. But the measure has moved so quclely that lobbyists have had little time to mobi lize their members. "I am concerned about what I think may put some peo ple out of business, said Senate Small Business Committee chairman Dale Bumpers, D-Art, who raised ques tions about the bill bar voted for it
The limited opposition to the bill can be explained partly by is labe sa civil rights measure. By contrast, when Bumpers raised comparable questions last year about a worker protection bull backed chiefly by organized labor, the fact that the bill had a union label was enough for Republicans and southern Democrats to stop the bill in its tracks Pur few lawmakers want to oppose a bill that seemingly has the appeal of apple pie and bears little cost to the federal government.
"The problem was the lack of professional examination of issues at the staff level," said Robert M. Guttman who was the chief aide for Dan Quayle boch at the Labor Committee and in the Vice President's odice The bill resulted more from the political forces all pointing in one direction.
Even though sponsors did little to hype their victory-which they altained with greased lighting speed passage of the bull bolsters this year's stim legislative record. It also sends a symbolic message that restord some of tbe faded bipartisanship Bush has urged. But tbe plow may fade if the proposal proves to be an empty vessel or raises endless questions
216 NATIONAL JOURNAL VI
I am writing to express the views of the American Dental
The Association finds commendable this legislation to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities. At the same time, we urge the Committees to examine the language throughout for the purpose of improving the specificity of its several sections. By so doing, we believe the bill will serve the intent of the Congress and will avoid the confusions, misunderstandings and litigious results that have been predicted in the general and business media.
We note the efforts in this regard in the Senate, particularly the amendment addressing the concept of the separate benefit in public accommodations. This is a matter of critical concern to the dental profession, inasmuch as, traditionally, certain dental patients with disabilities -- persons suffering from diseases of the central nervous system are a prominent example -- are treated by certain dentists with experience and demonstrated capability in the management of these patients. From our reading of the amended Senate bill, the separate benefit provision would allow for this quite effective approach to dental care to continue.
Further, we appreciate the difficulty of adequately defining the operative terms in the legislation. We urge the Committee, nevertheless, to address itself to this task, so that the obligations of all proprietors of public accommodations will be readily understood. In our opinion, the discussion in Senate Committee Report 101-116 of the meaning of "readily achievable," for example, might be included in Section 3 of H.R. 2273.
October 24, 1989
Finally, the Association recommends that the bill be amended to specifically prohibit discrimination against individuals in all stages of HIV infection. We believe such amendment would respond directly and unambiguously to the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Epidemic in this regard. We request that this letter be included in the official record of the Committee's hearings on H.R. 2273. sincerely,
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I recently discussed with Ms. Colleen Kiko, Minor ity Counsel for the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, my concerns about the Americans with disabilities Act (8.R. 2273). She suggested that I submit to you a statement expressing my concerns.
I am a disabled individual who is opposed to the Act. Although I am employed by the 0.s. Department of Education, my views are my own and do not reflect the views of this agency or the Federal government in any way. In addition, my opinions were not formed as a result of working in the Department.
Enclosed is my written statement. I would appreciate it being included in the Hearing Record. Thank you for considering my views.
Kathy J. Bogancamp