House

Capitol Police arrest disability rights protesters for disrupting hearing

Disability rights advocates were arrested on Tuesday for disrupting a House Rules Committee hearing to prepare legislation that would create additional requirements for filing lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki confirmed that 10 individuals were arrested for “unlawfully demonstrating” in the Capitol and charged with crowding, obstructing or incommoding as outlined by the D.C. code.

The House is expected to vote Thursday on the legislation, which would prevent people from filing lawsuits alleging violations of the ADA unless business owners are provided written notice and fail to offer a written description describing improvements. It would also require the Justice Department to create a program for educating governments and property owners on how to improve accommodations for people with disabilities.

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But before the bill can reach the floor, it must come before the House Rules Committee. The panel establishes debate parameters, such as any amendments and allotted time on the floor.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the House Rules Committee chairman, has personal ties to the disability rights community: His son Alex Sessions has Down syndrome.

Protesters, including a number of people in wheelchairs, chanted “Hands off ADA! Don’t take our rights away!” during the Rules Committee hearing.

Capitol Police officers physically dragged at least two protesters out of the room, including one man who appeared to be communicating in sign language. At least one woman in a wheelchair was handcuffed.

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have warned that the bill would “place the burden” on people with disabilities who are denied access to public spaces, rather than the businesses violating the law.

But Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), the author of the bill titled the ADA Education and Reform Act, said that current law leaves room for unserious lawsuits.

“There’s a problem with ADA in that because of the way that it was written, it allows for lawsuits to be filed by serial attorneys and serial plaintiffs who have never visited the property,” Poe said in testimony before the Rules Committee.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who helped author the ADA, issued a statement on Tuesday calling on GOP leaders to scrap this week’s vote on the bill. He warned that it would “undermine protections that allow millions to live independently and in the dignified manner they deserve.”

Tags Pete Sessions Steny Hoyer Ted Poe

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