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CAN SMALL FIRMS AFFORD TO OBEY DISABILITIES LAW?

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The nation's small-business owners cannot afford to comply with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, says the western regional coordinator for the National Federation of Independent Business.

Jack Welch spoke Friday at a forum sponsored by the Cache Chamber of Commerce. The federation is an advocacy group for small businesses, which are defined as having 20 or fewer employees.Welch said the opposition comes not from insensitivity but practical considerations.

"There are more than 900 disabilities covered in the act, and employers would not only be forced to make buildings accessible, but devices such as those for the hearing-impaired would have to be provided," he said.

Welch said the fine for the first violation would be $50,000, rising to $100,000 for a second offense.

Congress is expected to adopt the bill, but Welch said the federation is hoping its requirements will be relaxed and penalties reduced. He said amendments also should be made so that customers or employees could not be allowed to sue on the basis of something not understood by business owners.

Welch said the organization also opposes mandated health insurance, as suggested by the American Medical Association, and a parental leave bill that would allow employees to take time off to have a child or care for ill relatives and still have a job.

He said the insurance proposal "would help doctors collect their bills, but it would close down many small businesses," while parental leave would "devastate" businesses that would have to fill the slot temporarily.