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Bone up on ADA law compliance

Lawmakers holding seminars; revised ADA regulations took effect last week
By: Don Chaddock, Telegraph Managing Editor
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March 15 was the deadline for new Americans with Disabilities Act laws to take effect and some lawmakers are not only trying to educate business owners about the changes, but change the way the laws operate. The U.S. Department of Justice revised ADA regulations on Sept. 15, 2010, taking effect last week. Some regional lawmakers are trying to educate constituents by hosting educational workshops and seminars. The next one is slated for 7 to 9 a.m., March 27, at the Orangevale Community Center, 6826 Hazel Ave., Orangevale. Put on by state Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, along with the chambers of commerce in Folsom, Rancho Cordova and Orangevale, the workshop is meant to “educate businesses about state and federal ADA laws and present guidelines to avoid lawsuits for non-compliance,” according to organizers. In November 2011, Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, introduced legislation that could stem the flow of legal action in the ADA arena. Businesses in the foothills have been hit hard by ADA compliance lawsuits. According to the Auburn Journal, 67 Auburn-area businesses were identified as defendants in ADA legal actions. “I’ve heard from a number of businesses and enterprises, small operations primarily, (who are concerned),” Lungren said in a phone interview with the Telegraph. “I’ve heard from some folks who’ve had food franchises who aren’t against the ADA or its aims, but believe the system has been corrupted with a ‘gotcha’ (attitude) and they think they are (targets).” Under Lungren’s bill, attorneys and clients intending to sue under the act will have to provide notice of ADA violations. Lungren’s bill would require an attorney’s notice of legal action to be specific enough that business owners would know how they violated the act and what actions they must take to bring their facilities into compliance. Business owners would provide a written response within 60 days outlining improvements they would make to comply with the ADA. They would then have 120 days to make improvements. “Too often these lawsuits are filed and the accuser takes the settlement money and moves on down the road,” said Lungren, who previously served as state attorney general. “Access for the disabled does not get fixed because the business owner has spent his money on the lawsuit.” Lungren said it’s a long process to get support for his bill and he’s trying to do so at the local level. “I’m trying to build support for this the same way I did the 1099 bill,” he said. “This is not undercutting the ADA and is an effort to make it work. It is a matter of fairness and equity here. There is a fear people have of trying to gut the ADA. … But it is in the best interests of the business community to get this done. I’m also talking to disability advocates to let them see it’s in their best interest. We don’t do a lot of this with headlines.” Lungren said this region, which has seen so many ADA-compliance lawsuits, is easier to get support from the community. “We happen to be ground zero here in the Sacramento region for these kinds of lawsuits,” he said. “I think people legitimately understand what we’re trying to deal with. It’s more difficult in other areas of the country where these lawsuits haven’t gotten as much publicity. The media did a good job in our area talking about the problem, such as with the Squeeze Inn.” The Squeeze Inn closed their doors and relocated due to an ADA lawsuit. Tom Scott, with California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, said there are steps a business owner can take to help protect against a lawsuit. “Hire a certified access specialist to protect (against) liability and ensure they are in compliance,” Scott said. “They should keep up-to-date on the most recent ADA access standards at both the state and federal levels. Also, they should consult a lawyer as soon as possibly if they receive a demand letter notifying them they (are being) sued.” He said it’s important for business owners to educate themselves and one way is by attending the seminar. “With 98 percent of businesses not completely compliant with the ADA, it is obvious that better communication and more resources are needed to help businesses ensure they are in compliance,” Scot said. “Multiple state and federal bills have been introduced that would help solve the problem of predatory and abusive ADA lawsuits through common-sense solutions such as a short window of time to fix a violation before litigation can move forward.” Scott said while a business may have been compliant in the past, that may not be the case now. “Even if their places of business were in compliance with the ADA just a few years ago, the standards may have changed and business owners may be unknowingly out of compliance,” Scott said. “They could also be in compliance with federal ADA law, but not state, or vice versa. Business owners have been sued for details such as the color of their handicapped sign or the location of their garbage can. Business owners need to do all they can to be compliant to protect themselves from predatory lawsuits.” The Auburn Journal’s Gus Thomson contributed to this report. * * * IN THE KNOW The federal government has a website dedicated to the Americans with Disabilities Act at www.ADA.gov. People may also call (800) 514-0301. * * * KNOW AND GO ADA Compliance Workshop When: 7 to 9 a.m., March 27 Where: Orangevale Community Center, 6826 Hazel Ave., Orangevale