Braille Monitor                                            July 2016

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When New Laws Change Old Rights: What Is Being Lost in All the Media Hype?

by Brian Buhrow

Brian BuhrowFrom the Editor: Sometimes one wonders whether what we hear and see in the news is a genuine attempt to cover the things that shape and mold our country or whether some of it is an attempt to dodge broader and more important issues. No matter how you come down on the issue, every legislative body should ensure that the bills it passes contain provisions directly related to the topic it is meant to address. If the bill is addressing the safe operation of motor vehicles, it should not be used to institute a new leash law or implement a food safety regulation.

Brian Buhrow is best known for his work as an engineer involved in the field of communications, but he was also an English literature major, and when we need someone to combine issues of the heart and issues of the head, it is hard to find anyone better. Here is what Brian has to say:

With all the noise recently in the news about the trans-gender issue and making sure they have equal and unimpeded access to restrooms and changing areas, there's been some discussion of North Carolina's new H-2 law which says that state entities don't have to provide access to general restrooms for trans-gender folks. However, were you also aware that this same law repeals the right of individuals who may be terminated from their jobs or denied access to state services because of their race, sexual orientation, or disability to seek redress in the state courts for the discrimination practiced against them? When the governor was asked about this, his response was that, because he didn't have line-item veto and because he had to pass the H-2 law, he felt it was an acceptable tradeoff to sacrifice fifty years of civil rights gains for entire classes of people in order to address this hot button issue. He vowed to correct the injustice but was unapologetic about his action.

I am reminded of the Social Security laws of this country and the linkage that was lost between the blind and seniors when the earnings limits were raised for seniors but not for the blind. This happened about twenty years ago. When we went to Congress, we were assured this was a mere oversight and that it would be easy to fix with the next round of Social Security legislation that would come before Congress. Today, twenty years later, the issue is still unfixed, and every year we go to Congress and ask for this injustice to be corrected. By now, the earnings limits for seniors have been raised so high above those of the blind that Congress is telling us it would be too expensive to make the change now.

How ephemeral our rights really are when they can be wiped out with the stroke of a pen for a law that ostensibly doesn't have anything to do with us. We're a small minority in comparison with other minorities in North Carolina, but if other states draw up laws similar to North Carolina's and use their language, we'll find ourselves back in 1960 before we know it.

I think we are well-served by letting our membership know about the insidious side effects of these laws so that they can contact their state legislators and make it clear that we're not in favor of any law that abrogates our rights as blind people, whether or not it is an intentional effect of the law or not. For my part, I think this change in North Carolina is entirely intentional, and legislators were hoping to slip this nuclear option under the radar of their citizenry. How shameful!

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