State lawmakers gave final approval Monday to legislation to give businesses time to fix violations of disability laws that opponents say they should already be obeying.
SB 1406 would require someone affected by a violation of the Arizonans with Disabilities Act to notify the business owner who would have at least 30 days to fix the problem before litigation could be filed.
But the period of compliance could be much longer, 90 days or more, depending on the extent of the problem and whether building permits are required. Only if there is no action at that point could someone who has been harmed by a violation take the business to court.
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, questioned why businesses should be given time to not comply with a law she said amounts to illegal discrimination — in her way of looking at it, the same kind discrimination that keeps business owners from refusing to serve someone based on race.
“This bill is taking civil rights away from people,” she said.
Hobbs said a 30-day cure period doesn’t exist for any other group affected by civil rights laws.
“If somebody tried to walk into a restaurant who is black, and that restaurant said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, we’re not serving blacks,’ then that is a lawsuit right there,” Hobbs said.
Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, said backers of SB 1406 would understand the problems of a “cure period” if they looked at it through the eyes of those who are affected, people who go off to war and come back disabled.
“You think they wouldn’t want to be given a cure period of 30 days, too, to change what’s going on with them at that time?” he asked.
But Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she sees the legislation through a different lens.
“This is actually doing what the law is intending to do,” she said, “Identify the problem and fix it.”
What’s happened so far, Fann said, is “unscrupulous attorneys” have targeted businesses for what may be minor violations, file suit, negotiate a settlement, and “line their own pockets at the expense of our disabled community.”
“I think that is just an abomination and certainly not Christian-like in any way whatsoever,” Fann said.
There is no dispute that thousands of businesses were hit with lawsuits, all filed by the same firm, with offers to drop the matter for a cash settlement.
“Nobody supports that,” said Hobbs.
But she said that’s all in the past because Attorney General Mark Brnovich succeeded in getting all the cases consolidated and dismissed as frivolous. Hobbs said that shows there is no need for the new restrictions on the rights of the disabled to sue when there are legitimate problems.
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who worked on a version of the legislation, said he believes the measure, which now goes to the governor after the 18-11 vote, addresses many key concerns of the disability community — with the key exception of the waiting period.
“I don’t think you could ever get them on to the bill with a real cure period,” he said.