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H.438

Introduced by   Representatives Kiss of Burlington and Seibert of Norwich

Referred to Committee on

Date:

Subject:  Fair housing; public accommodations; human rights commission

Statement of purpose:  This bill proposes to: (1) further define the use of service, assistive, or companion animals; (2) make technical corrections to the Fair Housing and Public Accommodation Act; (3) eliminate the restriction on the human rights commission’s use of volunteers and the time period for conciliation efforts following a commission finding of reasonable grounds.

AN ACT RELATING TO FAIR HOUSING AND PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS AND THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  9 V.S.A. § 4501(7) is amended to read:

(7)  “Auxiliary aids and services” means the following:

(A)  Qualified interpreters, notetakers, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening devices and systems, hearing aid compatible telephones, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning telecommunications devices for deaf persons, videotext displays, or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments.

(B)  Qualified readers, taped texts, audio recordings, Braille materials, large print materials, or other effective methods of making visually delivered materials available to individuals with visual impairments.

(C)  Modification of equipment or devices.

(D)  A service, assistive, or companion animal that has been determined by a medical professional to be necessary to provide specific service, assistance, or companionship to a person with a disability.

(E)  Other similar services and actions.

Sec. 2.  9 V.S.A. § 4502 is amended to read:

§ 4502.  PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS

* * *

(c)  No public accommodation shall discriminate against any individual because that individual has opposed any act or practice made unlawful by this section or because that individual made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this section.  No public accommodation shall coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any individual in the exercise or enjoyment of or on account of his or her having exercised or enjoyed or on account of his or her having aided or encouraged any other individual in the exercise or enjoyment of any right granted or protected by this section.

(d)  No individual with a disability shall be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefit of the services, facilities, goods, privileges, advantages, benefits, or accommodations, or be subjected to discrimination by any place of public accommodation on the basis of his or her disability as follows:

* * *

(4)  No public accommodation shall discriminate against any individual because that individual has opposed any act or practice made unlawful by this section or because that individual made a charge, testified, assisted or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding or hearing under this section.  No public accommodation shall coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with any individual in the exercise or enjoyment of or on account of his or her having exercised or enjoyed or on account of his or her having aided or encouraged any other individual in the exercise or enjoyment of any right granted or protected by this section.

(5)  A public accommodation shall make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures when those modifications are necessary to offer goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to individuals with disabilities, unless the public accommodation can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.

(6)(5)  A public accommodation shall take whatever steps may be necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated, or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services, unless the public accommodation can demonstrate that taking those steps would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations being offered or would result in an undue burden on the public accommodation.

(7)(6)  A public accommodation shall not be required to provide to individuals with disabilities personal devices, such as wheelchairs, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or readers for personal use or study or personal services to assist with feeding, toileting, or dressing.

(8)(7)  Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, if a place of public accommodation has an architectural or communication barrier, in order to comply with this section, the public accommodation shall remove the barrier, if removal is readily achievable, or shall make its goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations available through alternative methods, if those alternative methods are readily achievable.  Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to alter architectural barrier removal requirements under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and its regulations as they relate to governmental entities.

(9)(8)  Any public accommodation that offers examinations or courses related to applications, licensing, certification or credentialing for secondary or post-secondary postsecondary education, professional, or trade purposes shall offer such examinations or courses in a place and manner accessible to persons with disabilities or offer alternative accessible arrangements for such individuals.

(d)(e)  This section shall not prohibit an owner or operator of an inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests, and which has five or fewer rooms for rent or hire, from restricting such accommodation on the basis of sex or marital status.

(e)(f)  It is a violation of this section for a gas station or other facility which sells gasoline or other motor vehicle fuel for sale to the public to fail to comply with the provisions of 9 V.S.A. § section 4110a of this title.

(f)(g)  It is a violation of this section for a public accommodation to fail to comply with the provisions or rules pertaining to public buildings pursuant to chapter 4 of Title 21 chapter 174 of Title 20.

(g)(h)  This chapter shall not apply to:

(1)  Special education claims and issues covered by federal and state special education laws, regulations, and procedures, pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § §§ 1404 et seq. and 16 V.S.A. chapter 101.

(2)  An insurer underwriting risks, classifying risks or administering risks that are based on or are not inconsistent with 8 V.S.A. §§ 4724 and 4084 or other applicable state laws.

(h)(i)  This section shall not be construed to require a public accommodation to permit an individual to participate in or benefit from the services, facilities, goods, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of that public accommodation when that individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.  For the purposes of this subsection, “direct threat” means a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices, or procedures or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services.  In determining whether an individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, a public accommodation shall make an individualized assessment based on reasonable judgment that relies on current medical knowledge or on the best available objective evidence to ascertain:

(1)  the nature, duration, and severity of the risk; and

(2)  the probability that the potential injury will actually occur; and

(3)  whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures will mitigate the risk.

(i)(j)  Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit a public accommodation from excluding a person engaged in disruptive behavior which the place of public accommodation has reason to believe is the result of alcohol or illegal drug use.

(j)(k)  Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any place of public accommodation in which the mother and child would otherwise have a legal right to be.

(k)(l)  A police officer, a firefighter, or a member of a rescue squad, search and rescue squad, first response team, or ambulance corps who is accompanied by a service dog shall be permitted in any place of public accommodation, and the service dog shall be permitted to stay with its master.  For the purposes of this subsection, “service dog” means a dog owned, used, or in training by any police or fire department, rescue or first response squad, ambulance corps, or search and rescue organization for the purposes of locating criminals and lost persons, or detecting illegal substances, explosives, cadavers, accelerants, or school or correctional facility contraband.

Sec. 3.  9 V.S.A. § 4553(a) is amended to read:

§ 4553.  POWERS

(a)  To carry out its duties the commission may:

(1)  establish and maintain a principal office and such other offices within the state as it deems necessary;

(2)  meet and hold hearings and pass upon charges of unlawful practices at any place within the state;

* * *

(7)  utilize voluntary and uncompensated services of private individuals and organizations for administrative and educational purposes as may from time to time be offered and needed; however, volunteers may not be used to investigate complaints;

(8)  conduct educational activities and publicize how and where to file complaints.

Sec. 4.  9 V.S.A. § 4554(e) is amended to read:

(e)  If the commission finds reasonable grounds to believe that unlawful discrimination has occurred, but does not find an emergency, it shall make every reasonable effort to eliminate the discrimination by informal means such as conference, conciliation, and persuasion.

(1)  If the case is disposed of by informal means in a manner satisfactory to a majority of the commission, it shall dismiss the proceeding.

(2)  If the case is not disposed of by informal means in a manner satisfactory to a majority of the commission within six months, it shall either bring an action in superior court as provided in section 4553 of this title or dismiss the proceedings, unless an extension is necessary to complete ongoing good faith negotiations and all parties consent to the extension.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us