Martha Gabehart, center, talks to disability advocates after
testifying for a bill that would align Kansas law with
changes in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Gabehart is the executive director of the governor's
commission on disability concerns.
(Photo by Andy Marso/Topeka Capital-Journal)
An official from the governor's Commission on Disability Concerns pushed for a bill Friday that would conform state law to changes in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Martha Gabehart, the commission's executive director, told the Senate Judiciary Committee the changes are necessary to clarify requirements for businesses that have employees with disabilities.
"This aligns state policy with federal policy," Gabehart said after Friday's committee hearing. "That way employers have only one set of regulations to deal with, regardless of how big or small they are."
Gabehart told the committee that federal disability law currently applies to companies with 25 or more employees, while Kansas law applies to those with four or more, causing unnecessary confusion. The bill would bring the same federal standards to Kansas companies with four to 24 employees.
Gabehart also said getting state standards in line with federal standards would ensure that federal money will keep flowing in to fund the Kansas Human Rights Commission and the investigation of disability complaints.
The bill Gabehart spoke for Friday clarifies that companies aren’t responsible for determining which of their employees are disabled or providing accommodations for employees who don't ask for them.
The bill defines a disability as an impairment that lasts six months or longer and "substantially limits one major life activity." It specifies that "major life activities" include bodily functions and that a disabled person is protected from discrimination regardless of the benefits they get from assistive technology, such as wheelchairs and prosthetics, with the exception of common eyeglasses.
Gabehart said the updates are necessary because of amendments to the ADA signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008. Those changes came in response to Supreme Court decisions that had severely narrowed the scope of the original ADA, which was signed in 1990.
Gabehart said the amendments brought the federal law more in line with its original intent and now the state has to catch up.
The bill has the support of advocates for the disabled, including Nick Wood, of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, who lauded the House for passing it 124-0.
Wood told the Senate committee the bill is "the next logical step" in protecting Kansans with disabilities.
"It will serve to clear up misunderstandings between employers and employees," Wood said in written testimony, "as well as unnecessary confusion in the courts about how people are covered under the act."