Senate Unlikely To Reconsider UN Disability Treaty
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin is dismayed that his effort to extend the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act to the international community appears unlikely to gain the Republican support it needs to be ratified by the Senate.
Harkin, D-Iowa, who along with former Republican Sen. Bob Dole sponsored the ADA, which was signed into law by a Republican president in 1990, had hoped to win over another half-dozen Republicans to reach the 67 votes necessary to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
However, a GOP ally did a vote count and said there has been no movement among the Republican holdouts despite encouragement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, veterans groups and disabilities groups.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
“I’m telling you, I’m really dismayed,” Harkin said late last week. “I think it is just unforgivable that we don’t join the rest of the world when we are the leader, when the convention itself was based on the ADA, that we don’t join with the rest of the world in helping other countries change their polices, their programs, their structures to be more inclusive of people with disabilities.”
Harkin has made the expansion of opportunities and rights for people with disabilities a major emphasis of his 30 years in the Senate. He had hoped to win ratification of the CRPD before retiring in January.
He’s been working with Republican senators including John McCain of Arizona, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire as well as Dole to persuade another five or six GOP senators to join eight or nine Republicans who either have voted for the treaty in the past or pledged their support this year.
Harkin thought he might win that support when earlier this month, the National Association of Evangelicals wrote Harkin to say it had dropped its opposition. It changed its position based on modifications of language on abortion and family issues in what are known as RUDs — rules, understandings and declarations — that would guide U.S. implementation of the treaty.
“This is what gave me hope that we might change some hearts and minds on this,” Harkin said. “But it didn’t do any good.”
Based on the vote count, Harkin said, “There’s no way we can bring it up.”
“So I’m sad to say our veterans who are struggling with disabilities, other Americans with disabilities who want to travel overseas with their families or who might want to go to school overseas or work in a job overseas, well, if you’ve got a disability, you might forget about it,” Harkin said.
A committee of representatives from the 140-plus nations that have ratified the CRPD will oversee implementation of the treaty.
“But our voices will not be a part of it,” he said.
If the U.S. had ratified the CRPD, the international committee would not have enforcement authority in the U.S. and interpretation of the treaty would be left to the Supreme Court, according to Harkin.
“I’m really dismayed,” Harkin said. “It’s just not right to have this go down like this.”
Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.