Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed the ADA Education and Reform Act, a bill that restricts disabled individuals’ abilities to declare lawsuits against private businesses for not having accessible facilities. Five of Austin’s six congressional representatives voted in favor of this bill, ignoring the voices of liberal constituents who want policy that gives equal access and rights to this marginalized group.
The people of Travis County must use their power to choose representatives who will defend the rights of disabled people in this primary election. Otherwise, Austin’s existing representatives will continue to erode the rights of disabled people across the country.
This bill does not give businesses protections. It requires disabled people to submit a written explanation of how the business violated the ADA. That business would then have 120 days to fix the issue or make “substantial progress.” According to the American Civil Liberties Union, potential passage of this law “would effectively exempt businesses from compliance” with their obligations under the ADA by allowing them to ignore compliance issues for years. Instead of fixing the issue, a business can claim they are making progress because of “circumstances beyond the control of the owner or operator.” For example, if a person in a wheelchair wrote a complaint about a business not being accessible, that business can ignore the access issue indefinitely because they claim to not have the financial resources to address the issue.
Michael McCaul, Bill Flores, Lamar Smith, Roger Williams and John Carter are the five Republican congressmen that dilute Austin’s influence. They do not accurately represent voters in a liberal county that support civil rights because their districts also reach to The Woodlands and Waco. Instead, they represent conservative constituents who believe businesses need more freedoms and protections from lawsuits. Austin is a city that fights for immigrants and welcomes the LGBT community, and it should affirm its progressive beliefs in the federal government when policy concerns disabled individuals. The city’s current representatives do not embody its values and the March primary is an opportunity to replace them.
Advocates of the bill say that this will prevent frivolous lawsuits against businesses, but Joyce Rogers of the American Association of Retired Persons explains that states such as Texas can already take punitive actions against lawyers for mindless, money-motivated litigation. If our five Republican representatives truly wanted to reflect the GOP belief in states’ rights, then they should have voted against this bill. They instead took a direct stand against the rights of disabled individuals across the nation.
As a hearing and vision impaired person, I believe that protections for any person with a disability are of utmost importance. Therefore, I encourage the people of Travis County to vote for a candidate who will defend the rights of disabled individuals in the future.
Bill Flores and Roger Williams are the respective Republican incumbents of districts 17 and 25. They are running unopposed in their primaries, so choose your favorite Democrat. In district 10, 21 and 31, there are opportunities to replace Michael McCaul, Lamar Smith and John Carter, who will not give disabled individuals the protections they deserve.
To find more information about the candidates, visit the Texas League of Women Voters’ website for a nonpartisan voting guide.
Kosinski is a journalism freshman from San Rafael, California. Follow him on Twitter @willkosinski.