Senate committee advances Padden bill to accommodate the hearing-impaired

4th District lawmaker says goal is to educate, not penalize

On Thursday, Jan. 21, the Senate Law and Justice Committee approved Sen. Mike Padden’s measure to help people with hearing impairments by increasing the availability of closed captioning on televisions in public places. The committee gave the measure a “do-pass” recommendation by a vote of 9-0.

Under Senate Bill 5027, televisions capable of showing closed captioning would need to do so when they’re in a public area of a “place of public accommodation,” such as a restaurant or sports bar. Failing to do so would be considered a violation of the state anti-discrimination law and subject to fines up to $75 and up to $150 for subsequent violations.

“For those who are hearing-impaired, it is important that televisions in public places have their closed-captioning feature activated,” explained Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “Otherwise, those with disabilities may be denied equal access to important safety information and news, as well as entertainment.”

Padden says most people want to do the right thing but may not be aware of the importance of closed-captioning.

“Twenty percent of the population has hearing loss, and the number is even higher for older Washingtonians,” Padden explained. “Anyone going to a restaurant, sports bar or movie theatre should have equal access to, and enjoyment of, these facilities. It’s the right thing to do, and Washington businesses want to do the right thing.

“This is an education effort, so the fines are fairly modest and there is an opportunity to ‘cure’ the violation and avoid the fine altogether.”

Under Padden’s measure, the state Human Rights Commission would also be tasked with preparing an educational pamphlet advising employers and employees of their duty and liability. The pamphlet would be made available online, and available for employers to use for training purposes.

If adopted, the measure could have the added benefit of helping the state avoid discrimination litigation, according to Padden.

SB 5027 has the support of the Washington State Association of the Deaf, the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities, and the Washington Court Reporters Association, along with several members of the hearing-impaired community who testified in support of the bill at its Jan. 18 committee hearing.

The bill now heads to the Senate Rules Committee, the final stop before a vote of the full Senate.