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Americans With Disabilities Act Of 1990: A Legislative History

“Woof! You sure gotta climb a lotta steps to get to this Capitol Building here in Washington! But I wonder who that sad little scrap of paper is? I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill, and I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill. Well, it’s a long, long journey to the capital city. It’s a long, long wait while I’m sitting in committee, but I know I’ll be a law someday… At least I hope and pray that I will, but today I’m still just a bill. Gee, bill, you certainly have a lot of patience and courage! Well I got this far. When I started, I wasn’t even a bill – I was just an idea.

Some folks back home decided they wanted a law passed, so they called their local congressman and he “You’re right, there ought to be a law. ” Then he sat down and wrote me out and introduced me to Congress, and I became a bill. And I’ll remain a bill until they decide to make me a law. Listen to those congressmen arguing! Is all that discussion and debate about you? Yes. I’m one of the lucky ones. Most bills never even get this far. I hope they decide to report on me favorably, otherwise I may die. Die? Yeah: die in committee. Oooh! But it looks like I’m gonna live.

Now I o to the House of Representatives and they vote on me. If they vote “yes”, what happens? Then I go to the Senate and the whole thing starts all over again. Oh no! Oh yes! I’m just a bill, yes I’m only a bill. And if they vote for me on Capitol Hill, well then I’m off to the White House, where I’ll wait in a line with a lot of other bills for the President to sign. And if he signs me then I’ll be a law… Oh, how I hope and pray that he will, but today I am still just a bill. You mean even if the whole Congress says you should be a law, the President can still say no? Yes, that’s called a “veto”.

If the President vetoes me, I have to go back to Congress, and they vote on me again, and by that time it’s… By that time, it’s very unlikely that you’ll become a law! It’s not easy to become a law, is it? No! But how I hope and I pray that I will, but today I am still just a bill! He signed you, bill! Now you’re a law! Oh yes! ” (School House Rock Lyrics- How a Bill Becomes a Law). The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 started out exactly as the bill in the famous School House Rock episode. The bill was introduced on April 28, 1988 by sponsor Senator Lowell Weicker (R – CT), then as S 2345.

It was introduced in the House a day later by the sponsor, Representative Tony Coelho (D-CA) as HR 4498. There were 63 co-sponsors in the Senate and and 249 in the House (Library of Congress). Weicker made the statement that “It will take the Americans with Disabilities Act to set the record straight as to where we stand on discrimination and disability” (United States Congress House Committee on Education and Labor). This bill was drafted principally by the National Council on the Handicapped and in response to their recommendation, it was promoted by Weicker and Senator Thomas Harkin (D- IA).

Tony Coelho, later sponsor, made the statement “the act… is a major step towards achieving our dream of equality” (United State Congress House Committee on Education and Labor). “The current bills, as well as earlier legislation on which HR 2273 and S 933 are based, stem from the work of the National Council on the Handicapped, a 15-member commission appointed by President Reagan” (Rovner 1121). The bill bars discrimination “on the basis of handicap in private- sector employment, public services, and public accommodations” (Rovner 1122).

Vice President George Bush soon joined in on supporting the act, as he act was also supported by the 185 member organizations that make up the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and numerous health and social organizations that backed comprehensive protections for AIDS and HIV victims (Rovner 1121). Another factor playing in on Bush’s support was the fact that he was running for President that year and committed to supporting the act if elected President. A joint hearing was conducted on September 27, 1988 by the Senate Subcommittee on the Handicapped and the House Subcommittee on Select Education, which later held a hearing on October 24.

The bill was almost handed a blow when Weicker was defeated in the re-election; however, Tom Harkin assumed the ADA Sponsor role in the Senate. He then rallied the disability community to solicit Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) to take a lead ADA role to compensate for the loss of Senator Weicker (Rovner 1560). In 1989, a new version of ADA was formed by President Bush, Coelho, Harkin, Hatch, and Kennedy, as well as the business and disability communities. They became known as H. R. 2273 and S 933. This is what became Public Law 101-336 (National Council on Disability).

The committees of referral for H. R. 2273 consisted of House Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, Public Works and Transportation, and Judiciary. They had a split referral due to the complex nature of the bill. It dealt with transportation (Public Works), employment (House Education and Labor), public accommodations, and telecommunications (Energy and Commerce) (Holmes). The House Education and Labor committee unanimously approved the ADA on November 14, but backers said that the final passage wouldn’t occur until 1990. Thirty-four amendments were rejected in the Education and Labor committee (Rovner 3167). The Energy and

Commerce committee became the first House panel to advance the ADA. The section approved by the committee would require telephone companies to establish a comprehensive panel of operators to help hearing-impaired people communicate over the phone. However, it was not passed by the committee until March 1990. The final vote in the committee was 40-3, with all three “no’s” being submitted by Republicans (Rovner 837). The Public Works and Transportation committee passed the ADA on April 3, 1990 by a recorded vote of forty-five to five, with all five “no’s” being cast by Republicans.

Although the votes broke largely along partisan lines as the committee rejected a half-dozen amendments to the bill, disputes were actually more regional in nature” (Rovner 1082). Republicans complained that the bill tended to benefit large urban Democratic areas; Republican John Hammershmidt’s (AK) amendments were all defeated in the committee (Rovner 1082). After the committees passed it, the act went to the floor then to conference with the Senate (Rovner 837). Amendments 456-450 were presented on the floor on May 17, 1990.

All but amendment 448 passed; its recorded vote being 187-213. Numbers 447 and 49 were passed by voice vote. Amendments HA 452, 453, and 454 were all offered on May 22, and all failed passage in the committee of whole by recorded vote of 110-290 on 452, 148-266 on 453, and 192-227 on 454 (Library of Congress). The bill became bogged down in a conference to resolve differences in the versions. The bipartisan comity that marked this legislation broke down on June 28, as glitches combined to prevent the bill from being sent to the President before July 4th (Rovner 1657).

Democrats began accusing Republicans of trying to delay the bill, and Republicans angrily denied the charges (Rovner 2071). The two differences between the House and Senate bill was the cause of the hold-up. The House version would have allowed restaurants to remove workers with infectious diseases from positions where food is handled. The Senate bill included a provision allowing individuals to sue senators for discrimination. Both disputes were resolved before being passed by the House on July 12.

The Senate eliminated the right to sue senators, adopting an amendment that powered the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate and resolve the complaints of discrimination. The conference committee also dropped the provision on ood handling, substituting an amendment that directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to publish lists of infectious and communicable diseases that can be transmitted by handling food. There was opposition in the House of eliminating the original provision, especially by amendment sponsor Jim Chapman (D-TX).

Although, part of the bipartisan breakdown occurred because of this amendment. On June 27, Democrats in both chambers got angered at the Senate Republicans because the House can’t consider a conference report unless it has the official “papers,” which at the time was in the hands of the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) blocked Kennedy from getting these papers. The House was expected to defeat a motion to recommit the report to conference with the instructions to restore the Chapman amendment (Rovner 2071-2072).

It took floor battles at each end of the Capitol during the week of July 9th and a second conference to settle the two remaining differences (Rovner 2227). The House did approve the conference report on July 12, 1990 with a final vote of 377 to 28 (Holmes). The vote held on May 22nd (before the House and Senate versions were incorporated) passed with a vote of 403 to 20; 248 Democrats nd 155 Republicans voted for the bill, and 3 Democrats and 17 Republicans opposed the bill. There were nine that didn’t vote and two vacant seats (Holmes).

Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said “It opens the opportunities and pursuit of happiness to 43 million Americans who have disabilities and want to participate fully in the activities of our country” (Holmes). . The referring and reporting committee for the Senate was Labor and Human Resources. The subcommittee was the Senate Subcommittee on Handicapped. The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee approved the ct on August 2, 1989 (Library of Congress). On July 13, the Senate cleared the bill, approving the conference report by a vote of 91 to 6 (Rovner 2227) after it finally overcame the two previous obstacles.

All 6 “no” votes were cast by Republicans. Their reasons ranging from concern for increased suits against businesses to the extension of protection against bias to people with AIDS. Senator Humphrey (R-NH) stated that the bill doesn’t merely prohibit discrimination, but requires employers to spend massive amounts of money to accommodate a variety of applicants (Holmes). A highly emotional discussion occurred here several Senators described their own personal experiences with being handicapped and having handicapped relatives (Holmes).

Edward Kennedy made the comment that “Americans with disabilities deserve more than good intentions. They deserve emancipation from generations of prejudice and discrimination, some of it well-meaning, but all of it wrong-minded”(Rovner 2227). “More than one hundred supporters of the measure, some in wheel chairs, gathered in a reception room off the Senate chamber and cheered wildly when a security guard announced the final vote” (Holmes). A companion bill was passed by a vote of 76 to 8 in September of 1989 Holmes).

On the floor, 22 amendments were proposed and all were passed but two. After one day of debate, they approved an amendment to codify an existing Senate rule providing Civil rights protections for Senate employees. Senator Wendell Ford (D-KY) argued that allowing courts to second-guess congressional actions would be a violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers between the branches. ADA sponsors then agreed to permit the Senate to send it back to conference to replace the language permitting Senate employees to go to court with the text of the amendment.

While back n conference, it allowed members to replace a controversial amendment that would have permitted workers with communicable diseases to be transferred out of food handling jobs, although the language was changed to where a list of communicable diseases that can be transmitted through food and those with those diseases could be transferred out of food-handling jobs (Rovner 2228). On August 2nd, 1989, President Bush and leaders of the Senate agreed to support the ADA. President Bush supported the measure almost since it’s inception in 1988. Bush claimed he was delighted with the action and igning the bill (Nash).

The Bush administration did campaign to alter a key section. The administration opposed expansion of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights act to the ADA and wanted to makes sure that no monetary damages are possible under the ADA. In return, the administration agreed to broad coverage under a public accommodations title. Backers of the ADA argued that the point was not to give them existing remedies, but to ensure that the handicapped and disabled have the same means and access to remedies for employment discrimination like women and minorities do (Rovner 837).

The administration also drew back from efforts to toughen penalties against businesses that don’t comply. Officially, the administration didn’t withdrawal support because they were very supportive of the cause. But, a new measure introduced in the House and Senate in February would toughen the penalties to allow compensatory and punitive damages, as a result, President Bush was reluctant to support the rights measure as long as the penalties were tied to those in the Civil Rights Act (Holmes). There was large support for this bill, including the 185 organizations that made up the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National

Council on Disabilities (who drafted the original bill in 1988) and various other organizations. It received wide attention; especially from those who had disabilities that suffered from discrimination in employment. More than 100 people in wheelchairs were arrested on the Capitol March 13, 1990 after they demonstrated for a swift passage of the act. Demonstrating on the Capitol is against federal law. Many of the protestors had chain- linked their wheel chairs together after the legislators departed and began to chant. It was soon broken up by the Capitol police force (Holmes).

Many handicapped people were also lobbying before the opening of a debate on May 18, 1990, and watched the House of Representatives debate afterwards (Hosefros). Many people bound together on the attempt to pass the bill: a group of students from the Alabama School for the Blind, the commissioner of the Department of Mental Retardation, the commissioner for the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, the AIDS advisory board, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and many other individual organizations and individuals (United States House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor Vol.

They received thousands of heart- wrenching stories from individuals who suffered from discrimination on the basis of their disability. Pat Wright, executive director of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (a lobbying group) issued a statement that said “No longer will people with disabilities be second-class citizens” (Holmes). They had an overwhelming response to the bill and most were advocates of the ADA. Hundreds of groups, organizations, and individuals testified at hearings and sent letters to their Congressmen (United States Congress Education and Labor Vol’s 1,2 and 3).

The bill was passed into law July 26, 1990 and the disabled community celebrated the passage along with the organizations, health care providers, and Congress. This bill received wide bipartisan support. Some distinct party line voting did occur; more with the “no” votes than any of them. The majority of the votes that were “no” were by Republicans (only three Democrats voted to not pass the bill). Many Republicans were unhappy with the requirements that businesses would have to meet, claiming it was too expensive. However, only 17 did vote against the entire measure. The reason for widespread, bipartisan support is pretty obvious.

Not too many Congressmen were willing to sacrifice their careers by voting no on the most comprehensive rights act since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is a classic Mayhew example – most of them reached out to the disability community so that they could keep their jobs. Disabilities come in many forms, and disabled people live everywhere, and most families have at least one member with some sort of disability. Not only that, but they received the widespread support of various organizations and that can equal campaign contributions. By voting this bill into law, Congress received eminent praises from society as a whole.

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