What is Ally’s Law? (Skip this paragraph if you are familiar with it)
The Restroom Access Law, colloquially known as Ally’s law, would require retail store without public restrooms to provide access to employee only restrooms for patrons with IBD (or another medical condition) that can require immediate access to a toilet. The impetus for the development and proposal of Ally’s law was after then 14 year girl Ally Bain, a patient with Crohn’s, from Illinois urgently needed to use the restroom. Her and her mother asked store employees if she could use their restroom and when she was denied subsequently soiled herself in the store. Later in 2005 the Restroom Access law was signed into law. Several other states including Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Washington have followed suit in passing similar legislation.
Virginia’s Brief History with Ally’s Law:
Virginia House Bill 1375 can be read by clicking here: HB 1375. It was introduced on January 9, 2013 to a health subcommittee that heard testimony from patients of all ages with IBD and IBS. The bill was drafted by Representative Rob Krupicka after a teenager with Crohn’s disease from Alexandria, Virginia was repeatedly denied access to employee only bathrooms. The bill was dead on arrival at the subcommittee level before any votes could be had. Despite having clauses protecting businesses from additional liabilities beyond the 100 dollar penalty for non-compliance, the subcommittee cited fears of negative impact on small business. I said brief history didn’t I?
Virginia’s Sordid History with Ally’s Law:
Following news of the bills quick defeat, one opinion piece writer for the Virginia-Pilot published this piece: “Bathroom Bill Ends up Where it Belongs – Down the Drain.” I’d encourage those with thicker skin to take the time to read that article but for my fellow IBD-ers and ostomates who are easily offended it’s not worth your trouble. Also, I don’t think it’s worth anyone’s time to write this author as the article is over two years old and I’m sure she’s faced plenty of backlash. I’m obviously late to this game but here are my thoughts on her piece:
First, the author points out that HB 1375 is a well-meaning, albeit “over the top”, bill that “attempted to legislate common sense.” Implying it is superfluous in nature and unnecessary. Unfortunately, the grassroots efforts to pass such legislation are growing because these days common sense and decency are no longer quite as ubiquitous as she perceives. The description of the situation of the Alexandria teenager with Crohn’s disease and the events surrounding Ally’s law throughout the United States belies the argument that a. common sense exists today and b. its legislation is unnecessary.
Had these events never occurred, and we’d never heard stories like these, the argument that these are redundant laws being levied against small business owners would carry weight. To learn about the value of common sense and decency in society you need only sit in a shopping mall to see how few people hold open doors for elderly shoppers, or sit in a traffic jam with your windows rolled down or observe how many people text right on through family dinners. I once thought that common decency would be extended to anyone in urgent need, especially someone with a doctor prescribed identification card (akin to a vehicle handicapped sticker). I was wrong. Just go online to the IBD and or ostomy communities and read the situations people are forced to endure at the hands of uneducated people’s lack of common decency. These stories would shock you into understanding the state of common decency.
Second, this article makes me question the impact increased awareness alone has had on this author and the House subcommittee. She posits that raising awareness may be a viable alternative to legislation as a means of changing the position of business owners. I wonder though as IBD is listed as an established disability under the Social Security rules Section 5.00 and further protected under the Americans with Disability Act, what more should we need? She published this article about IBD, likely read by several thousand Virginia-Pilot subscribers, so I am assuming she educated herself about living IBD. Perhaps a naive assumption but I will give her the benefit of the doubt. I wonder, did her reading and increased awareness change her position? Did testimonials from patients with IBD change the House subcommittee’s stance? Should we expect the same reaction from business owners after they learn why someone with IBD and/or an ostomy would urgently need restroom access? As the House subcommittee quickly shot down Virginia HB 1375, a decision this author relishes in, I would argue that increased awareness without redoubled efforts to pass legislation is ineffective.
So how can patients with IBD and/or ostomies change the behavior of the small business owners who “don’t want the public using their restrooms”? A stance she admittedly sympathizes with. I agree that threat of law suit is very real in todays society, and should be cause for concern for business owners, but the original language of HB 1375 in VA says “a violation of any provision [penalized by fine up to $100] of this chapter by a retail establishment or its employee shall not create any private cause of action or otherwise subject a retail establishment or its employee to any civil liability to any person.” If this is not enough, why not adopt the language used in states like Texas, who take great pride in championing business yet were able to pass such legislation?
So how do we raise enough awareness, if not by tirelessly seeking the passage of some iteration of HB 1375, to change the authors, business owners and the House subcommittee’s position?
After reading the opinions expressed in the Virginia-Pilot, I ask myself where was the response by vested medical professionals? Who “has the backs” of the teenagers who bravely laid the foundation for these laws? Will this demeaning, jocular and poorly informed opinion piece really be the third article people see when they Google “Ally’s Law in Virginia”? If so, that is shameful. Is it that difficult to gather minds of differing political leaning, establish common goals, develop a plan and affect meaningful political change in support of patients and business alike? I recognize and readily admit my bias as a patient, but all one has to do is look around the United States for precedence. Red states like Texas, Kentucky and Tennessee have come together with blue ones like Massachusetts, Maryland and Washington in passing legislation similar to HB 1375. And while Virginia remains a deep shade of purple, it seems only fitting that we continue to raise this issue again and again until the political color of our state aligns with that of the ribbon representing awareness for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.