Saturday, March 5, 2011

North Dakota eyes federal money for automatic doors for new business construction

From The Associated Press:

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Francis Herauf says he's tired of fighting to open doors in his wheelchair, especially in buildings that were built with taxpayers' help.

The Mandan resident's three-year crusade on the issue made it to the North Dakota Senate's Political Subdivisions Committee on March 5, which reviewed a bill that would require businesses that get more than $100,000 in government aid to install automatic doors in new construction projects.

Herauf said the federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires new buildings to include wheelchair ramps but not electric doors. "My dream is to get into buildings without fighting these doors," Herauf told the committee. "Do you know how hard it is to fight a door, especially when it opens the opposite way?"

Herauf petitioned for a similar Mandan city ordinance in 2008, which voters approved. Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, sponsored legislation two years ago to put the requirement into state law, but it was defeated.

The 2009 legislation required the doors for both new construction projects and renovations, which opponents said put a costly burden on businesses. Kelsch softened the measure this session to only include new buildings, and the House narrowly approved it, 50-41, in January.

"If you're going to be receiving public dollars, you should do the best you possibly can to make sure those buildings are completely accessible to everyone," Kelsch said.

The rules would only apply to retail portions of a building used by the public.

Businesses could ask for an exception if installing the equipment would be "structurally or economically imprudent." The cost of an automatic door system starts at about $2,000.

Veronica Zietz, executive director of The Arc of Cass County, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, said she worries about giving exceptions. A business that receives a waiver from the state may think it doesn't have to follow other federal guidelines, she said.

The committee took no action on the bill. It is HB1158.