Washington (CNSNews.com) - Actor and entrepreneur Clint Eastwood took on Congress Thursday, calling himself "an advocate for common sense" as he testified before a House subcommittee on how the Americans with Disabilities Act has been abused by unscrupulous lawyers against small business owners like himself.
When asked which was more difficult, dealing with Hollywood studio heads or Congress, the 69-year-old film giant told CNSNews.com, "It looks like Congress might be tougher."
Eastwood is being sued by a California woman, who claims that his 32-room Mission Ranch Hotel in Carmel, California violated the ADA because it did not have enough rooms for disabled people. Under the ADA, the disabled cannot receive monetary awards, however her attorneys are demanding that Eastwood pay more than $500,000 in legal fees.
Predatory lawyers are abusing the ADA to enrich themselves at the expense of small businessmen and the disabled alike, said Eastwood, who added he was never told his hotel was not in compliance before the lawsuit was filed.
"It's really not very fair. These lawyers cloak themselves under the guise they're doing a favor for the disabled when really they're doing a disservice," Eastwood told the House Subcommittee on the Constitution. "Lawyers ride off in a big Mercedes, and the disabled ride off in wheelchairs."
Eastwood appeared before the panel at the behest of House Deputy Majority Whip Mark Foley (R-FL) and Representative Clay Shaw (R-FL), who are co-sponsoring HR 3590, which would amend the ADA to require that businesses be notified if they are out of compliance with the law and be given 90 days to remedy the matter.
Foley said most businesses, if they were in violation of the ADA, would respond to the notice rather than chance a lawsuit. Any money saved by avoiding litigation could then be used to make the business more accessible to the disabled, he added.
"Give the notice. Let people know that they're in violation. They're probably unaware that they are in violation and will fix it. Those that don't fix it, well they'll suffer the perils. But those who have a 90-day corrective remedy period will find themselves probably in compliance without excessive legal bills," Foley told CNSNews.com. after the hearing.
Shaw told CNSNews.com that he agreed with Eastwood that it is just "common sense" to amend the ADA in order to allow the law to do what it was originally intended to do, help the disabled, not enrich trial lawyers.
"The purpose of the law is to bring people into compliance, and if you can do it without suing them, you should," said Shaw.
The hearing room was packed with disabled people, many in wheelchairs and some with guide dogs, who were opposed to HR 3590, saying that any amendment to the ADA might erode its impact on their lives.
"We're concerned about our civil rights. We're up here protecting the integrity and the wholeness of the ADA," Becky Ogle, Executive Director of the Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities, told CNSNews.com. "The real issue is the slippery slope we're on."
After the hearing, Eastwood stopped briefly to speak with Ogle on his way out of the Rayburn building.