I'm baaack... and Foley's gone!

Yep. Mark Foley is out of Congress. It's great to be able to write that.

By now it's common knowledge that Florida Republican hypocrite Mark Foley was forced to resign following news of his sexually explicit e-mails to teenage boys serving as Congressional pages. Fueling the media's glee, of course, was the fact the Foley had set himself up as the key foe of child sexual exploitation. As recently as late July, he appeared at the Rose Garden ceremony where President Bush signed a law creating a national registry for sex offenders, a provision Foley wrote -- the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. (Carl Jung would not have found any of this in the least surprising.)

But, of course -- and, I have to write, as usual -- the mass media and the blogosphere seem to know little about his fight against disability rights.

Foley was the power behind the continuing effort to get Congress to consider a different "Notification Act" -- this one an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act -- a bill that continues to crop up like a bad penny. The last I ran across reference to it was in an article just a month ago out of Charlotte, Florida:

Foley has introduced a bill in Congress that would give businesses 90 days to meet ADA standards before they can be sued.

"What I am hoping to do is give business owners a legitimate chance to fix properties or make them compliant without the expense of litigation," he said. (Businesses vulnerable to 'drive-by' lawsuits)

Foley's fight against the ADA hit the bigtime in the spring of 2000 when he got lots of face time on places like Crossfire with his pal actor Clint Eastwood, and got quoted in the Wall St. Journal and the like, promising to help businesses fight against unscrupulous attorneys who were suing mom-and-pop businesses, willy nilly.

Foley's stunts formed the backdrop of my book Make Them Go Away, so I'm likely more aware of his shenanigans than the average taxpayer.

But it's a shame that while the public learns of his sleaze when it comes to sexual mores, they remain unaware of his role in the fight against access.

Of course, as he told Chris Matthews on Hardball back then, "We want people that are disabled to know this is not about hurting or harming them."

Here, then, is a snip from Foley's testimony back on May 18, 2000 before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution:

Mr. Chairman, the Americans with Disabilities Act is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation we have passed in recent years. It is a good law, with great intentions.

At the time it was signed into law, however, even President Bush acknowledged concerns about unintended consequences. Today, we are facing one of those unintended consequences. To put it simply, the ADA is being used by some attorneys to shake down thousands of businesses from Florida to California, and they are doing so at the response of people with disabilities.

As you know, under title III of the ADA, disabled plaintiffs who file lawsuits to compel compliance with ADA access requirements are barred from receiving damage awards, but the attorneys who bring these lawsuits are not. They are allowed to collect attorney's fees. As a result, some attorneys apparently have figured out that the ADA can be a real cash cow for minimum work on their part.. . .

[W]e are talking about businesses that can barely afford clerks, much less lawyers, being expected to comply with very specific requirements of a Federal law that no one has made them aware of. . . .

A black person entering a restaurant and being denied access is reprehensible, but that is because the person is mean. Most everybody understands the impact of civil rights legislation, and I regret that still may occur in parts of America. Unfortunately, today what we are talking about with ADA is ignorance. . . .

Lest anyone be deceived, this fight "on behalf of" small businesses against "drive-by lawsuits" is pretty much a trumped-up charge powered by the ongoing "tort reform" movement. (More about disabled people filing lawsuits here.)

My question, upon returning from my summer hiatus is: who'll take up the cudgel against access now? Florida croney Rep. Clay Shaw? We'll need to see who emerges as the tort reform group's point-man on this issue. Because someone will.

Goodbye, Mr. Foley. Don't let the door hit you on your way out.

October 02, 2006 | Email this story


Comments (newest comments at bottom)

So glad you're back. But it took me a second before I recalled how much you detest Mark Foley and realized you hadn't had a catheter removed. ; )

Posted by: Evonne on October 2, 2006 03:48 PM

Ha ha Evonne. Oh yeah, a foley catheter. Well, he *IS* sort of like a catheter in that he is both irritating and pissy...

Posted by: MJohnson on October 3, 2006 06:06 AM

Welcome back!

Posted by: Penny on October 3, 2006 08:53 AM

Ok, so I don't know all of the details, but just because someone has proposed a compromise, does that make them ANTI-ADA? What is the timeframe that a small business has to make changes? I'd say 90 days might be a little long, but is there a window, or is this ripe pickings for lawyers? Face it, Foley may have had a point here.

Posted by: Mark on October 4, 2006 03:43 PM

Mark (above) writes,

What is the timeframe that a small business has to make changes? I'd say 90 days might be a little long, but is there a window, or is this ripe pickings for lawyers?

Here's the thing: Businesses have had 16 years now to come to grips with the access requirements of the ADA. That's Point One.

Point Two: Despite what Mark Foley's and Clint Eastwood's comments would lead one to believe, in fact virtually all businesses that get sued in fact DO receive "notice." It's routine for attorneys to send a letter to a potential defendant beforehand warning the owner of an impending suit unless changes are made. But Foley and Eastwood and in general the "tort reform" bulldogs would have one believe that attorneys sneak up on businesses unawares. It's a powerful image but it's mostly just not true. In Mr. Eastwood's celebrated case, the actor had been sent more than one certified letter by the plaintiff -- but Eastwood had refused to accept sign for it. Then he brays to the media that he "never saw" the lawsuit coming. Poppycock!

Far better than my explanation, though, are the explanations disability activists provided to members of Congress at the May, 2000 hearing on the Notification Act. You can read some of the most powerful comments here -- and you can read the entire transcript of that Congressional subcommittee hearing here.

Point Three: In fact, the effort to get a "Notification Act" amendment to the ADA is just a strategy to make it more difficult for lawsuits to be filed. Given that a lawsuit is the only tool a disabled person has for getting access enforced, it's, yes, certainly an Anti-ADA move. Do read The Lawsuit Dilemma and the links accompanying that article (particularly Fred Shotz on Why Suing Is Important) for a fuller perspective on the issue.

Then do please let us know your thoughts after that.

Posted by: MJohnson on October 4, 2006 04:11 PM

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