The House passed H.R. 5326, The Commerce/Justice/Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2013 on May 10. The bill would fund the Departments of Commerce and Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) among other agencies. Two amendments that threaten the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also passed. One amendment would prohibit the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using any appropriated funds to enforce the existing requirement for public entities, places of public accommodation, and commercial facilities to provide a permanent means of accessible entry to pools and spas under Titles II and III of the ADA, even when it is readily achievable to do so. The other would prohibit DOJ from using funds to implement a section of the ADA which allows miniature horses to be used as service animals. As troubling as these amendments are, the real threat is picking apart the ADA piece by piece by taking away DOJ’s enforcement ability. Several Members made strong statements in support of the ADA during House floor debate on the bill, including Representatives Hoyer (D-MD), Nadler (D-NY), Farr (D-CA), Holt (D-NJ), Langevin (D-RI), Miller (D-CA), Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), and Rothman (D-NJ).
During the deliberations on the bill, an amendment was introduced that would have limited DOJ’s ability to enforce a portion of the Voting Rights Act. The portion in question was Section 5 which requires certain states to obtain permission from DOJ prior to implementing or changing voting practices. The purpose of Section 5 is to ensure that proposed changes do not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. After an impassioned defense of the Act by Representative John Lewis, in which he called the amendment “shameful,” the sponsor withdrew the amendment. The Arc is concerned that there may be an attempt by some members of Congress to erode important civil rights that afford citizens with disabilities and other minorities the ability to participate in society as full citizens of this country. The Arc is working to ensure that similar language does not pass in the Senate when it considers its version of the CJS Appropriations bill.