Big Valley Christian High in Modesto wanted to build a press box for its football field.
There was one problem.
California American Disabilities Act law requires bleachers with an elevated press box to have an elevator for handicapped access.
Now, thanks to a dose of common sense authored by Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen, R-Modesto, and signed into law just recently by Gov. Jerry Brown, the draconian requirement has been relaxed.
Starting in 2013 California will start employing federal ADA standards that exempt press boxes of 500 square feet or less from the elevator requirement.
It was the latest in effort to try to bring sanity to some of the more interesting facets of ADA law in California.
State Senator Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and State Senator Bob Dutton, D-Rancho Cucamonga, teamed up to draft legislation protecting businesses from predatory lawsuits filed by disabled-access lawyers who roam the state looking for “violations.”
The measure signed into law by Brown last month will stop prolific lawyers such as Scott Johnson from filing an inordinate number of lawsuits - more than 1,000 in six years - to penalize small businesses that are not ADA compliant. Typically he’d drop by a business, find an ADA violation, document it, and issue pre-litigation demands for money. Typically, that would net him $4,000 in virtually every case. And - even if the demand is met for the money the problem wasn’t necessarily fixed.
Johnson drew the ire of businesses targeted. But he did have a point. There have been ADA laws on the books for 20 years but they aren’t necessarily being enforced. One huge reason is the major costs involved in bringing pre-existing conditions up to code.
Johnson and other disabled-access lawyers were only using the system as it was designed.
That said it is a very ineffective and punitive system.
The new law corrects that by barring lawyers from issuing pre-litigation demands for money and caps any penalty at $1,000 if the business or property owner moves quickly to correct the problem. The end result should be more problems corrected to enhance handicapped accessibility and no more of what appears to be a systematic shaking down of businesses using the ADA law as the weapon of choice.
It’s issues with law such as noted here that is the real reason California is not deemed business friendly. Sure, there are the high cost of living and environmental concerns. But there are trade-off ranging from the size of the California market to its natural appeal ranging from climate to landscape.
When you pile on regulations that for all practical purposes are capricious such as the state’s elevator for all press box rule laws that can open a business for costly litigation where the end result is making lawyers whole and no one else, then you’ve got an environment that isn’t business friendly or friendly for anyone else except for those milking the system.
What we need is a special legislative session each year for lawmakers to comb through the endless reams of existing state laws and regulations and modify or junk those that lack common sense.
Our lawmakers have passed legislation to regulate our lives at such a torrid pace over the years that the rules put in place often have unintended consequences, morph into something different because of “holes” in the language that have been left to bureaucrats and the courts to interpret or have simply become outdated and out of step for the times.
California law is loaded with such nonsense as elevator requirements for all press boxes regardless of the circumstances and laws that encourage sweeping enforcement via litigation yet result in no net gains for society.
Enough of the nonsense.
It’s time for common sense in Sacramento.
What Olsen, Steinberg and Dutton have done is a good start.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209-249-3519.