Support for ADA must not be eased
By Anthony Akamine
Chairman of the Disability and Communication Access Board
Considerable attention has been given to the Feb. 21 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett. As a disability-related advocacy organization, we are very much dismayed at the decision, which held that lawsuits under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act for damages against states are unconstitutional.
The decision was limited to only employment damages against the states. With this one exception, the ADA is very much alive. Individuals can still sue for injunctive relief to require a state to comply with the ADA. Also, the requirement to provide access to programs and services of government was not affected. Finally, individuals can still sue local governments and other non-state public entities for injunctive relief and damages. This would include our county government.
Thus, it is critical for state and local entities to strengthen their level of commitment to the ADA.
What is disturbing about the decision is the trend of the high court to strip many civil rights protections at the federal level. This trend was started with decisions in the Age Discrimination Employment Act and the Violence Against Women Act and has continued under the ADA.
We can expect more challenges taken to the Supreme Court.
We are distressed that civil rights is perceived first as a states issue. We applaud the efforts of many states to enact similar, if not comparable, civil rights laws, and Hawai'i has some good laws as well as weak ones. However, we are dismayed to think that people with disabilities can go from state to state and have their basic civil rights change or even disappear depending on the goodwill, enlightenment or foresight of a state's politics, not to mention the state of the economy. Our civil rights should be the same across state lines.
We must continue our advocacy under the ADA as a federal law. At the same time, we must fight to incorporate equal provisions and protections in state law, along with the commitment and financial resources to enforce those laws, to protect citizens with disabilities in our state should the onslaught against civil rights laws continue at the federal level.
Senate Bill 720 pending in the Legislature does just that. We urge your support of this bill and its passage.