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Business owners have mixed reaction to ADA compliance bill

SB 1186 passes senate
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn-area businesses say while it?s a step in the right direction, they are skeptical of the difference legislation aimed at giving them relief from ?frivolous? Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits will make. Senate Bill 1186, authored by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) passed unanimously in the senate Tuesday. If enacted, it will require attorneys to send businesses a letter 30 days before filing a lawsuit, listing any construction-related access violations. The legislation would also require landlords to disclose whether their buildings were ADA compliant. Auburn Chamber of Commerce officials say they were hoping for a bill that would grant business owners more time to get on track toward compliance, but SB 1186 will provide some relief. Assemblywoman Beth Gaines (R-Roseville) said she is looking forward to working on the bill to help small businesses. Local business owners say the legislature needs to focus on finding a better solution to ?frivolous? ADA lawsuits. Bruce Cosgrove, president of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, said local business owners often call the chamber of commerce with concerns about ADA compliance. Several Auburn-area businesses have been sued by Carmichael-based lawyer Scott Johnson for being out of compliance. ?We were hoping for a bill that would grant a little more time than 30 days, but 30 days is much better than what they currently have,? Cosgrove said. ?Most of the businesses that are sued don?t even know they have an ADA compliance issue.? The 30-day window could be enough to fix smaller violations or put a plan in place with a certified access specialist to complete the changes within a ?reasonable? amount of time. Creating the plan with a certified access specialist and making changes within the specified timeframe protects a business from being sued. Cosgrove said the compliance lawsuits have even hit newer construction. ?What the government hasn?t done, either the federal government or state government, they haven?t put a mechanism in place for a check and balance,? Cosgrove said. ?It goes right from the federal level to the business owner to deal with. There is no one in-between that regulates it.? Gaines authored two pieces of legislation aimed at targeting ADA lawsuit abuse. Assembly Bill 1878 would have given businesses 120 days to correct violations or put a plan in place with a certified-access specialist, rather than the 30 days passed in SB 1186. Assembly Bill 1879, which passed in the assembly judiciary committee, would require the state architect to compile a list of federal and state access requirements and show discrepancies between the two. The bill is currently in the senate appropriations committee. ?As an active author of frivolous lawsuit abuse legislation, I am looking forward to working on this bill when it comes to our house from the Senate,? Gaines said. ?This bill remains a bipartisan work in progress, and it is my hope that any actions this Legislature takes directly addresses and puts a stop to the rash of drive-by, predatory lawsuits that are hurting our small-business community.? Steven Rowett, owner of Sierra Smog in Auburn, will be paying Johnson $200 a month for the next two years. He will also be making the compliance changes when he remodels his shop soon. ?To me it sounds ridiculous ? like it would change absolutely nothing,? Rowett said of SB 1186. ?Right now the only thing that would help me is if I didn?t have to pay this guy $200 a month. To help people out in the future, the only thing is to do some type of legislation to keep him from basically extorting money from people.? In past interviews, Johnson has said he always sends letters to businesses stating they are out of compliance before he files a lawsuit and doesn?t sue those who correct the violations or put a plan in place with a certified-access specialist. Johnson, a quadriplegic, said the lawsuits are about creating access for everyone and businesses have had years to come into compliance with access regulations. Johnson was not available for comment on this story. Joan Elliott, owner of Ore Cart Steakhouse and Red Dirt Saloon in Foresthill, said she was issued a warning letter by Johnson, but has not been sued. She said she doesn?t believe SB 1186 will help businesses very much because Johnson files lawsuits in federal court. ?It?s all fine and dandy that the state is jumping on the bandwagon, but that doesn?t do anything to help us,? Elliot said. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.