by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector
April 3, 2023
TOPEKA — The House and Senate agreed to send Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday a watered down bill aimed at deterring out-of-state attorneys from filing lawsuits against businesses in Kansas alleging websites didn’t comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The original version of a measure, transformed through negotiations into House Bill 2016, was viewed as a heavy-handed attempt to interfere with ADA compliance litigation. The alternative, adopted by the House 83-37 and in the Senate 35-5, was a softer approach that authorized Attorney General Kris Kobach to file countersuits if a lawsuit was deemed “abusive” by the courts.
“The reason this bill was introduced is that there are out-of-state attorneys targeting small businesses in Kansas over ADA violations on their websites,” said Rep. Fred Patton, a Topeka Republican. “These small businesses either have to spend a significant amount of money defending these out-of-state claims or they simply pay to settle the case.”
“I want to stress this is only about abusive lawsuits involving website accessibility,” said Patton, an attorney and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
He said the bill would serve the state’s interests in anticipation the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidelines on what information a company’s website should feature to be compliant with the ADA. Provisions of the bill would expire when the Justice Department published guidance.
The Kansas bill, if signed by the governor, would grant businesses 90 days to correct any problem with information contained on a website. It wouldn’t, Patton said, preclude a person from asserting a right to equal access to public accommodations affirmed by the ADA.
Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat and attorney, said the bill approved by the House and Senate was a “very, very different bill” than the version introduced on behalf of Kansas business lobbying organizations. He said the previous incarnation would have “shut the courthouse door to disabled Kansans on public accommodation cases.”
“I have to give my reluctant thanks to the Senate for the work that they’ve done to water this bill down to where it really does nothing,” Carmichael said. “It’s kind of turned into a high school project to see if they could find some way to get this thing passed.”
Carmichael said it would be wrong for Kansas to enact laws that intentionally inhibited access to the federal courthouse by people with disabilities.
Eric Stafford, who represents the Kansas Chamber, said the goal was to deter attorneys engaging in extortion and predatory practices by raining lawsuits down on businesses in Kansas. He said one lawyer who filed suit against a Kansas business had pursued at least 800 comparable cases since 2020.
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