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What’s the big stink about restroom access bill?

Posted by Rona Fischman June 20, 2012 02:02 PM

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Attorney Richard D. Vetstein goes a bit off-topic today to discuss legislation that affects people with inflammatory bowel disease.


Rep. Kafka (D-Stoughton) has filed the “Restroom Access” bill, which the House initially approved this week, on behalf of a Sharon girl with an intestinal disorder who found herself in uncomfortable situations on shopping trips with her mom. “When the problem arises, they need to get to a bathroom quickly and, in some cases, there are no public restrooms,” he said. The new legislation, if passed, will require Massachusetts retailers and restaurants to open their private bathrooms to sufferers of inflammatory bowel diseases — and fine them $100 if they don’t. The law would apply only to people with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or any other medical condition requiring immediate access to a bathroom, as well as those who wear ostomy bags.

Retailers opposed, but why the big stink?
The Restroom Bill is unfortunately causing a major stink with retailers. “Why single out only retailers?” Retailers Association of Massachusetts President Jon Hurst told the Boston Herald, “Why not banks, why not office buildings, why not government buildings? I walk into the State House and see a lot of locked bathrooms.” Donna DePrisco, vice president of Boston’s DePrisco Diamond Jewelers, said legislative action just isn’t necessary.

The bill has been tweaked to address retailers’ concerns. It applies only to stores with at least two people working, so cash registers aren’t left unmanned; it absolves retailers from liability; and the restrooms must be in accessible areas that don’t pose health or safety risks to customers.

Well-known Condominium Attorney Stephen M. Marcus, who suffers himself from Crohn’s Disease and created the charitable foundation, IntestinalFortitude.com, supports the bill and says that “access to restrooms issue is a serious one for the 1.4 million Americans with Crohn’s and colitis, mainly teenagers. I’m sure retailers will adjust to this law in the same way condominium and apartment owners adjusted to the rights of persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications to their property for persons with disabilities.”

I think retailers’ concerns are way overblown. Retailers are worried about lawsuits, but the bill provides immunity from liability for slip & falls and injuries. More importantly, allowing restroom access for people who medically need it is basic human decency and common courtesy. If retailers were really savvy on public relations, they would turn this into a positive by putting a sign or sticker with “Restroom Open” with the familiar purple Crohn’s Disease ribbon. How’s that for a win-win!

I don’t usually write about public accommodation laws, but with several friends and family members who have Crohn’s I took note of this. Millions of Americans (including just retired Pats lineman Matt Light: read great ESPN piece) suffer from debilitating Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases. Victims put up with frequent and sudden bowel movements, diarrhea and excessive urination. For these folks, a walk around Boston can turn literally soiled when shopkeepers close the door on restroom access. This is an all too common reaction by shopkeepers, and State Rep. Louis Kafka wants to change that.

For more information about Crohn’s and Colitis Disease, check out www.ccfa.org. To support the Restroom Access Bill, please email or write to Rep. Louis Kafka and reference House Bill 2366.

What are your thoughts on the Restroom bill?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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