Date: July 2005
Most likely sometime this summer, new design guidelines issued by the U.S. Access Board to improve accessibility and compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will finally be implemented. But as that is happening, there are other bills circulating among the Washington committees and boards that would also affect the venue industry, but are less well-publicized.
Perhaps one of the most talked about right now is one just passed by a congressional committee that would eliminate tax-free bonds for the construction of sports stadiums. “I'm not sure it would pass in Congress,” said Turner Madden, attorney and lobbyist in Washington for the International Association of Assembly Managers (IAAM). “But the committee has recommended it. The purpose would be to increase federal taxes. Yes, there will be fewer stadiums built, but I don't think Congress cares about that. Do you?” Chris Bigelow, Bigelow Companies, a concessionaire consulting company, and president of the National Association of Concessionaires (NAC) said he and his colleagues are also watching this one with much interest. If there are fewer stadiums built, there will be fewer concessions.
Another bill has come back to light. In mid-June there were 18 co-sponsors of the ADA Notification Act, Senate Bill 782, a bill that would require a 90-day notice to a venue not in compliance with an ADA regulation before someone could file a lawsuit. Support of this bill is expected to grow. “This would help prevent all these drive-by lawsuits,” Madden said.
The Access Board has been working on the new ADA guidelines for quite some time, considering the needs of the venue industry in the process. The way the guidelines were originally written, 1 percent of the number of fan seats had to be wheelchair accessible. For example, if an arena had 70,000 seats, 700 seats would have to be wheelchair accessible, then another 700 for companion spaces. Each wheelchair space is about the size of three to four regular seats. “This is a huge amount of inventory,” Madden said. “We were concerned about that. They went with our suggestion and cut that in half. It is now one-half of 1 percent. That is a lot of seats for the industry to be able to put back into their inventory.”
Although the Access Board sets the floor on the regulations, Madden said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will also be making their rules and adding to the policies. One piece of legislation is the extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, Senate Bill 467. Madden said currently if there is an act of terrorism, an insurance company is 10 percent liable for any damage and the federal government is 90 percent liable. “They [insurance companies] are trying to extend that act,” Madden said. A fairly new federal program made available to the venue industry is the DHS Online Vulnerability Self-Assessment Tool. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government built an online assessment program for commercial airports, the maritime industry and now venues. “The DHS spent a couple of million dollars creating it for our industry and the IAAM encourages everyone to take it,” Madden said. “It helps create a security plan if you don't have one and, if you do, it only makes it better. It is all confidential. We are rushing to get this word out.”
More information may be found on the IAAM Member Bulletin or by contacting the DHS at www.dhs.gov.
However, Washington isn't the only hotbed of concerns. Many of the issues that face the industry are regulated on state and local levels. Susan Cross, executive director, NAC, said this is the case with most concessionaires' concerns. “Except for minimum wage,” Cross said. “This is always an issue for us.” Although, it is not an issue that is active at present. There are also certain events that take place on local levels that could spur legislation in Washington. As an example, Bigelow pointed to lawsuits holding fast-food chains responsible for obesity problems. “There has been such a rush on this obesity problem,” he said. “And, of course, if these suits were successful, even though they are pointing more towards McDonald's and other chains, it could affect other concessionaires. Here in Missouri, legislation has been passed that these suits are nuisance lawsuits. But it is those types of issues people watch.”
He also pointed to lawsuits related to alcohol consumption, such as the case where a family sued over a 1999 car accident in which an intoxicated fan leaving an NFL Giants game caused a young girl to be paralyzed. A jury assessed $105 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Aramark. A Superior Court judge held up the judgment this past March. “I think people were kind of waiting around to see if some type of legislation would come from that, but it never did,” Bigelow said. Alcohol issues are always hot button topics. States have taken it upon themselves to agree universally that 21 years old is the legal drinking age and .08 is the legal limit for being charged with drunk driving. “But each state made that decision,” said Jill Pepper, executive director, TEAM Coalition. It is never that cut and dried.
Pepper said in some states, including Wisconsin and Texas, it is legal for a person under 21 years of age to drink if that person is with a parent. “They can do that anywhere, at a bar, at an amphitheater, at a sports venue,” she said. “This really makes it harder. So one of our main focuses of TEAM is ID training.” Not only do alcohol servers have to be able to recognize a fake ID, in some states they are required by law to confiscate it. In other states, they are not to confiscate it. Some states have the Dram Shop Law, which holds the server liable. Some states don't. There is also a common negligence law, which, again, can hold a server liable. “It is really based on state-by-state laws,” Pepper said. “But TEAM is constantly striving to make their presence known to legislators in Washington.” Jeffrey Larris, president of INTIX, the International Ticketing Association, said his members are watching the possibility of taxation on Internet transactions on the federal level. “That is currently regulated by the states and there is no uniform way in which it is done,” Larris said. “Most laws related to ticket sales reflect state laws.”
Another state issue Madden said the IAAM will encourage other states to follow is Ohio's proposed Criminal Trespass Law, House Bill 96. The bill increases the charges against anyone who goes into a prohibited area at any public assembly facility. Signage would be posted on entries to all restricted areas. Madden said those charged could face six months in jail and the $500 fine would increase to $1,000. The criminal justice committee has passed it on for vote in the legislature. Expectations are that it will pass into law.
Interviewed for this story: Turner Madden, (202) 349-2050; Chris Bigelow, (816) 483-5553; Susan Cross, (312) 236-3858; Jill Pepper, (877) 283-2626; Jeffrey Larris, (212) 629-4036