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Floor Statements

Floor Statement on H.R. 3195, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008

I thank the gentleman.

Madam Speaker, I want to commend the distinguished majority leader and the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Sensenbrenner) as well as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the chairman of the Education and Labor Committee for their leadership on this important legislation.

This bill would help to restore the Americans with Disabilities Act to its rightful place among this Nation's great civil rights laws.

This legislation is long overdue. Countless Americans with disabilities have already been deprived of the opportunity to prove that they have been victims of discrimination, that they are qualified for a job, or that a reasonable accommodation would afford them an opportunity to participate fully at work and in community life.

This bill fixes the absurd Catch-22 created by the Supreme Court in which an individual can face discrimination on the basis of an actual past or perceived disability and yet not be considered sufficiently disabled to be protected against that discrimination by the ADA . That was never Congress' intent, and this bill cures this problem.

Some of my colleagues from across the aisle have raised concerns that this bill might cover minor or trivial conditions. They worry about covering stomachaches, the common cold, mild seasonal allergies, or even a hangnail. I have yet to see a case where the ADA covered an individual with a hangnail. But I have seen scores of cases where the ADA was construed not to cover individuals with cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, severe intellectual impairment, HIV, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis.

These people have too often been excluded because their impairment, however serious or debilitating, was mischaracterized by the courts as temporary or its impact considered too short-lived and not permanent enough.

That's what happened to Mary Ann Pimental, a nurse with breast cancer who challenged her employer's failure to rehire her into her position when she returned from treatment. Ms. Pimental was told by the court that her cancer was not a disability and that she was not covered by the ADA . The court recognized that ``there is no question that her cancer has dramatically affected her life, and that the associated impairment has been real and extraordinarily difficult for her and her family.'' Yet the court still denied her coverage because it characterized the impact of her cancer ``short-lived''--meaning that it ``did not have a substantial lasting effect'' on her.

Mary Ann Pimental died as a result of her breast cancer 4 months after the court issued its decision. I am sure that her husband and two children disagreed with the court that her cancer was short-lived and not sufficiently permanent.

This bill ensures that individuals like Mary Ann Pimental are covered by the law when they need it. The bill requires the courts--and the Federal agencies providing expert guidance--to lower the burden for obtaining coverage under this landmark civil rights law. This new standard is not onerous and is meant to reduce needless litigation over the threshold question of coverage.

It is our sincere hope that, with the passage of this bill, we will finally be able to focus on the important questions: Is an individual qualified? Might a reasonable accommodation afford that person the same opportunities that his or her neighbors enjoy?

I therefore urge my colleagues to join me in voting for passage of H.R. 3195 as reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee. I thank everyone associated with its passage.
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