Paradee to Introduce Restroom Access Bill for Crohn’s Sufferers

DOVER – Delawareans who suffer from Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and other serious bowel conditions could receive assistance from a measure sponsored by Rep. Trey Paradee.

The measure, which will be House Bill 245 when it is filed this week, would allow people with documented medical needs access to restrooms in retail businesses where restrooms are not normally open to the public. The bill also protects businesses by waiving any civil liability related to the restroom access provided for in the legislation. Sen. Bethany Hall-Long will sponsor the legislation in the Senate.

Smyrna resident Morgan Burnett, along with her parents Amy and Jonathan, brought this issue to Rep. Paradee’s attention. Morgan, 15, was diagnosed with Crohn’s two years ago and has learned just how difficult it can be to find a nearby public restroom when her symptoms arise. Morgan, like thousands of others with Crohn’s and related conditions, also knows what it’s like to be denied the use of a restroom reserved for ‘employees only,’ even in the midst of a medical emergency.

“Far too often, my disease can turn me into an unwilling homebody, afraid to leave the house and risk putting myself in a situation where I won’t have easy access to a restroom,” Morgan said. “For me, this bill represents freedom from worry, freedom to go the places I want to go, and freedom to do the things a teenager should be doing in her free time.”

Rep. Paradee said he is proud to take up this cause on behalf of Morgan and her family, who have become true ambassadors for Crohn’s and colitis awareness.

“As a parent, I can imagine how terrible it must feel to know your child is suffering from a serious disease and, in some situations, may not be able to make it to a restroom when necessary,” said Rep. Paradee, D-Dover West. “People with Crohn’s and other similar conditions, as well as their families, deserve some peace of mind, compassion and dignity when it comes to their medical needs.”

Sen. Hall-Long said she understands the need for this legislation given the seriousness of conditions like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.

“As a nurse, I know the symptoms of these conditions can strike at any time and often without warning,” said Sen. Hall-Long, D-Middletown. “It’s our duty as legislators to promote the health and wellbeing of our constituents, and this is a situation where we can educate and work with  businesses owners of their role in assisting potential patrons or those in need.”

Morgan’s mother Amy said the Burnetts don’t go anywhere unless they know there will be access to a restroom, but House Bill 245 would take that burden away.

“Constantly checking for a nearby bathroom is a terrible obsession to have,” she said. “This legislation, if it becomes law, will make our lives and the lives of so many other families dealing with Crohn’s just a little bit easier.”

Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s, affect thousands of people of all ages. Symptoms of the conditions include persistent diarrhea, cramps and abdominal pain, and the urgent need to move the bowels. Often, these symptoms are sudden and unexpected, following long periods when the person has experienced no symptoms at all.

The restroom access provisions would apply to people with “Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, any other inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or any other medical condition that requires immediate access to a restroom facility,” as defined in the bill. It would also cover people using ostomy devices.

The measure would allow businesses to ask a customer requesting restroom access to show documentation of his or her medical condition, either in the form a doctor’s note or an identification card issued by a nationally-recognized health organization or health department. The rules would apply only to retail businesses during their regular hours of operation, when at least two employees are on duty, and when no public restrooms are present. Businesses also would not be required to make any changes or upgrades to restrooms that are not normally accessible to the public.

Thirteen states have similar statutes granting access to non-public restrooms for medical reasons, including Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington. Many of those laws also offer protections to businesses and allow them to ask for documented proof of an eligible condition. These statutes are often referred to as “Ally’s Law” in honor of Allyson Bain, an Illinois teen who was denied access to an employee-only restroom when her IBD-related symptoms struck. She spearheaded the drafting and passage of the legislation in her home state.

House Bill 245 is scheduled to be included in Thursday’s House prefile. It currently has seven cosponsors in the General Assembly.