Is true ADA reform possible? Apparently, not, at least not in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee, which is made up of three Democrats and two Republicans, had an opportunity to help stop abusive ADA lawsuits in California, but voted down SB 783 by State Senator Bob Dutton. This simple measure would have allowed businesses 120 days to fix alleged ADA violations before a lawsuit could proceed. Senator Dutton was even willing to reduce that window down to 60 days. This would have stopped the vast majority of these drive-by ADA lawsuits that are being filed in California.

However, Senators Noreen Evans, Mark Leno and Ellen Corbett did not feel that was reasonable (only Senators Tom Harman and Sam Blakeslee supported SB 783). The majority argued that when SB 1608 was passed and signed into law in the fall of 2008, a compromise had been reached on ADA lawsuits and that it has not been given a chance to work. Corbett actually argued that it is working and that there is no need to even consider SB 783. She argued this despite the fact that one of the people testifying at the hearing was a businessman who has been sued twice since the passage of SB 1608 and was even CASp certified (certified access specialist), which means he hired a specialist to ensure his business was compliant. Currently there are approximately 300 CASps and more than 1,400,000 businesses in California. Doing the math, it’s not hard to figure out why businesses have a difficult time ensuring they are in compliance.

SB 1608 was a compromise and it was supported by a large coalition made up of the disabled, legal and business communities. It was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger literally days before our economy collapsed. While SB 1608 has had some small successes it has also had a very slow start. People had high hopes that the bill would curb abusive ADA lawsuits, but the fact of the matter is that SB 1608 is not stopping or slowing such lawsuits.

The CA Commission on Disability Access (CCDA), which was established by SB 1608 has really had its own set of problems. Its initial budget was a paltry $80,000, and at first its staff was provided by the Building Standards Commission. In June of this year, the CCDA finally hired an Executive Director – more than two years after its creation. The Commission still does not have office space and has barely even met, because it is too busy getting organized.

So to people who say SB 1608 is the answer and that you have to give it time to work, I say SB 1608 is in serious need of resuscitation. If you read it and you know what is going on, it is not working. There are problems and they need to be addressed immediately if California’s economy is going get up and running again. SB 783 would have immediately stopped many of these job-killing lawsuits. Even if SB 783 passed there would be more work to do, since personal injury lawyers would find a way around it like filing in federal court (which something they already do, and another reason why SB 1608 is not effective).

The economy is still not moving. Unemployment is high as is inflation. Businesses are still struggling and the lawsuits continue to flow. Every piece of legal reform legislation introduced this year has gone down in flames along party line votes. Voters need to pay attention to these issues, start holding legislators accountable, and stop letting the personal injury lawyer special interests control the day. Bad lawsuits cost good jobs.