New York – A bill recently signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo will finally be bringing welcome relief to those who suffer from two different types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
The Crohn’s and Colitis Fairness Act was passed by the legislature last June and would give those who suffer from either of these two chronic diseases or certain other medical conditions the legal right to use employee-only restrooms at any business that is open to the public during regular business hours.
The bill, which was sponsored by Senator Kemp Hannon of Long Island and co-sponsored by Senator Simcha Felder in the Senate and sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin in the Assembly, came about through the efforts of Williamsburg resident Yoely Drummer who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease ten years ago.
“When you have a flare up, you to need to have a restroom and it is an instant emergency,” Drummer told VIN News.
Drummer founded the Jewish Crohn’s and Colitis Support Group seven years ago. An attack of Crohn’s that had him rushing into a Duane Reade store that had no public bathrooms and being refused permission to use the employee restroom, was one of several disturbing incidents that stands out in his memory.
“I had a card explaining that I have Crohn’s but the manager told me the restroom was broken,” said Drummer. “He had 10 to 15 employees in the store and I asked him how he accommodated them and he told me he didn’t have an answer.
I walked into a restaurant across the street, bought a bottle of water and they let me use their restroom but these kinds of things happen every day and if a pharmacy could do this to me, I had to do something.”
Taking matters into his own hands, Drummer spoke with his local elected officials and was advised that the best way to create a legislative solution to the problem would be to enlist a Republican senator to take up his cause.
“One Friday morning about three or four years ago I picked myself up and drove out to Long Island to the office Senator Hannon, chairman of the Senate health committee, with no appointment and asked to talk to him,” said Drummer.
“After a half hour wait I met with a legislative executive who asked me a million questions. We had a committee meeting on Monday and the Senator’s staff was shocked that I had just walked in with no appointment. I told him we have chutzpah and I wasn’t going to wait for an appointment which could take months.”
Drummer said that there were technicalities along the way as the bill was drafted, most notably deciding that businesses would not be required to make their employee bathrooms wheelchair accessible in order to accommodate the new legislation.
Under the new law, all businesses that are open to the public and have two or more employees are required to grant access to employee-only restrooms to anyone with IBD or other medical conditions that requires immediate access to a bathroom if there are no public facilities available.
The Crohn’s and Colitis Fairness Act would only be applicable during business hours and under conditions that would not create safety risks to the requesting individual or the place of business.
The bill was approved with a memo by Governor Cuomo in mid-December, a classification that Drummer explained denotes that while the bill was signed into law by the governor, further details still need to be resolved, in this case determining how people would be able to prove their medical need, which could be done through an official identification card or a letter from their personal physician.
Drummer said that the details of the bill would be finalized within 120 days after which time it would become state law.
According to Healthline.com (http://bit.ly/2mzjFbn) 15 states already have a similar law on the books including Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Punishments for non-compliance vary by state, with Massachusetts levying a $100 fine on first offenders and $200 for a second violation.
Jews of Ashkenazic descent are five to seven times more likely to suffer from Crohn’s disease according to Felder, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 17. He noted that over the years finding stores that allow use of their restrooms has become more and more difficult. As the final minutiae of the law are ironed out, Felder offered his advice to those who suffer from IBD.
“Get a letter from your doctor and save a copy of this new legislation on your phone so that if over the next few months you have an urgent situation you will have something to base your claims on and hopefully see better results,” suggested Felder.
Felder praised the JCCSG for its work that will benefit thousands who find themselves in terrible situations when a flare up occurs.
“This bill is very important and very personal to me and while it wasn’t my idea once I was happy to come on board and provide my assistance in any way possible,” said Felder.
“It just goes to show you that when they say ‘you can’t fight City Hall’ it just isn’t true. When dedicated people decide they want to do something and are persistent, they really can make things happen. The moral of the story here is that people should never give up.”