Former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburg said he opposes what he called attempts to undercut landmark legislation he worked to pass guaranteeing people with disabilities equal protection under the law at an event honoring his work March 13 in Washington.
The former two-term governor of Pennsylvania, who led the Justice Department under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said nearly 28 years after passage, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 “must be protected from current threats to weaken its intent” while accepting an award from the American Association of People with Disabilities, according to The Christian Citizen.
The ceremony recognizing Thornburgh’s leadership in enacting the law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life comes on the heels of a House of Representatives vote favoring a bill that would make it harder to sue businesses over obstacles to public access.
The ADA Education and Reform Act, introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), purportedly attempts to cut down on frivolous lawsuits. The bill would require individuals with disabilities to send a letter of notification to the business that it is out of ADA compliance, wait 60 days for the owner to acknowledge the barrier and then another 120 days to start fixing the problem before filing a lawsuit.
Disability advocates say no other protected group has to endure a waiting period before filing a grievance and that removing the threat of a lawsuit would make it easier for businesses to ignore what has been the law of the land for nearly 30 years.
The ADA Education and Reform Act passed in the House by a vote of 225-192 on Feb. 15. It now moves to the Senate. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Army veteran who lost both her legs while serving in Iraq, called it “offensive legislation” that sends a “disgraceful” message that Americans with disabilities can be treated as second-class citizens.
Thornburgh, 2018 recipient of the AAPD Leadership Award, was recruited by President Bush as point person seeking congressional passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Thornburgh, whose first wife died in a traffic accident that left their son permanently disabled, called it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to combine my personal and political agendas” in a 2017 article in The Christian Citizen, a publication of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies.
“Like most reforms, it’s a process of two steps forward and one step back, but it has made enormous differences in the lives of persons who were previously denied equal access to jobs, education, public services and transportation,” Thornburgh said at the ceremony.
“Nearly 28 years later, the ADA remains a critically important civil rights law for all Americans with disabilities which must be protected from current threats to weaken its intent,” he said.
Thornburgh’s current wife, Ginny Judson Thornburgh, became a mom to his boys and advocate for people with disabilities as director of the Interfaith Initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies, the national ministry arm of American Baptist Churches USA, is one of 33 national religious organizations from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh traditions comprising the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition.