PHOENIX - The Arizona Legislature passed an amended measure Monday designed to crack down on disability access lawsuits that opponents say are just shakedowns for quick cash settlements, but gutted a proposed compromise between businesses and disability groups.
Senate Bill 1406 is meant to limit the abuse of disability laws that have entangled small businesses, lawyers and the disability community.
Competing House and Senate proposals merged earlier this month were amended during a House floor debate last week and passed on a 38-20 vote. The Senate passed the measure on an 18-11 vote Monday, sending the legislation to Gov. Doug Ducey for consideration.
The legislation would target what legislators call unscrupulous attorneys who are exploiting businesses by finding violations with the Arizonans with Disabilities Act and filing lawsuits. The claims are often dropped after the businesses agree to pay a cash settlement.
The amended bill championed by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard would allow businesses that need permits or approval from the government to fix issues a 30 day period to "provide a corrective action plan" to the aggrieved person and submit an application to the appropriate government entity. Businesses that don't need permits would be required to correct problems within 30 days.
Disability groups are not supporting the amended legislation, arguing the disability community's concerns regarding their right to have proper access are no longer being met appropriately with some businesses gaining that 30 day period, if not more, before starting to take action to fix accessibility issues.
"This bill is too broad, this is not just about parking structures, the accessibility law is for people who need accommodations in order to access materials at their business ... there are things that putting a cure period in are not reasonable," vice president of advocacy at Ability360 Amina Donna Kruck said.
Mesnard has noted his changes to the bill follow the original proposal made by Sen. John Kavanagh.
"There was just a disagreement," Mesnard said. "Sometimes you can't come up with a perfect compromise."
Under his measure, after permits are issued, businesses would have 60 days to comply with the complaint before a lawsuit could be filed. Mesnard's proposal also states any delay in obtaining permits would not be calculated in that time period, meaning businesses could potentially leave issues unresolved for much longer periods of time.
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs said the bill does not strike a balance at all and will take away peoples' civil rights.
"There's no other group who is affected by civil rights laws that we would tolerate a 30 day cure period for," Hobbs said during the Senate's final vote. "If somebody tried to walk into a restaurant who was black and the restaurant said `Oh I'm sorry we're not serving blacks' then that is a lawsuit right there."
The issue led Attorney General Mark Brnovich to ask a state court to dismiss more than 1,000 accessibility lawsuits filed by the disability advocacy group Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities on grounds it did not have legal standing.
Peter Strojnik, lead attorney for Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities has said he thinks legislators are intent on protecting offending businesses over the interests of the disabled community.