After pressure from mayors and the Interior Ministry, a government discussion on an amendment that would allow for financial and other sanctions on municipalities that have not implemented accessibility regulations has been postponed.
The move comes even though the amendment to the Equal Rights For Persons With Disabilities Law, which requires local governments to make their services accessible to people with disabilities, was passed 16 years ago.
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The government admits its failures in enforcing the regulations, as can be seen in the draft bill submitted to the discussion in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. ”People with disabilities continue to suffer from inaccessible buildings and an inability to fulfill their fundamental right to active and equal participation in society,” said Neta Dagan, the executive director of the Bizchut organization.
The Justice Ministry said the amendment would come up for debate at a later, unknown time.
In 2005, the Knesset passed an amendment to the law on the rights of people with disabilities, which focused on accessibility and equal conditions in public institutions and the public space. As a result, the long process of instituting regulations on specific matters began, for instance, on making public spaces accessible in 2011, and public services accessible in 2013. Even though these regulations were gradually implemented by 2016, local governments received further postponements a number of times, the last of which was until the end of 2021.
Once it became clear that even at the end of this year, not all the necessary actions for accessibility would be completed, the Justice Ministry submitted a new amendment, which includes “improving the enforcement mechanisms” on the implementation of the regulations. The amendment is expected to “advance the rights of people with disabilities through the strengthening of the tools to fulfill their rights,” states the explanatory notes to the amendment.
Under the present law, enforcement of the accessibility regulations requires a long procedure, including issuing an “accessibility order” or “proper representation order,” whose violation is a criminal offense such that the Commission for Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities in the Justice Ministry can file an indictment for this violation. This process does not adequately deter such violations and allows government authorities, and local governments among them, to continue violating the law, states the explanation for the proposed amendment. Instead, it proposes financial sanctions.
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The amendment would also allow the commission to file suit in the name of a person with disabilities for discrimination or a lack of accessibility.
Funding for the changes needed to make buildings accessible has been in dispute between mayors and the Finance Ministry for years. The Federation of Local Authorities says the proposed law does not deal with the main problem – a lack of resources to implement the changes to accessibility. Before creating an enforcement mechanism, it is necessary to complete comprehensive arrangements for accessibility, said the federation.
The Interior Ministry said it views upholding the law by local governments to be of supreme importance, but “the amendment was not agreed upon with us, so our request was to study the matter in depth and professionally.”