Bill To Expand Protections Under Americans With Disabilities Act

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The Senate on Thursday by voice vote approved a bill (S 3406) that would expand protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, CongressDaily reports. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the legislation in response to a series of Supreme Court decisions that limited the scope of ADA (Hunt, CongressDaily, 9/12). In cases heard in 1999 and 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that individuals who could compensate for their disabilities with medications, medical devices or prosthetics did not qualify for protection under ADA (Demirjian, CQ Today, 9/11).

The bill would classify any condition that limits a major life activity as a disability, regardless of whether individuals could compensate with medications, medical devices or prosthetics. In addition, the legislation would revise the definition of a major activity to include conditions that limit bodily functions, such as the immune system, circulatory system and brain (CongressDaily, 9/12). The bill also would authorize the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Attorney General, and the secretary of the Department of Transportation to issue new ADA regulations.

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Harkin said, "The protections afforded under this historic law have been eroded, and the result is that people with serious conditions like epilepsy or diabetes could be forced to choose between treating their conditions and forfeiting their protections under the law" (CQ Today, 9/11). He added, "This bill is about restoring the ADA to where we intended it to be 18 years ago and to give clear instructions to the Court."

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Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, "The Supreme Court did what it thought was right, but it was wrong. And we had to correct it" (CongressDaily, 9/12).

Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, said, "This is the most important piece of disability legislation since the enactment of the ADA in 1990, and we are close enough to the finish line that we can see over" (Reuters/New York Times, 9/12).

Prospects

The House in June voted 402-17 to pass a similar bill (HR 3195) sponsored by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). The House version of the legislation would change the definition of a disability to any condition that "materially restricts," rather than "substantially" limits, a major life activity, a provision not included in the Senate version (CongressDaily, 9/12). Hoyer said that the House plans to vote on the Senate version of the bill on Sept. 17 and that President Bush likely will sign the legislation (CQ Today, 9/11).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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