Restroom access bill for Crohn’s patients signed into law

 

DOVER – Gov. Jack Markell today signed legislation from Rep. Trey Paradee that will assist Delawareans living with Crohn’s disease and other serious bowel conditions.

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 245 will ensure that people with diagnosed medical needs are allowed to use restrooms normally marked for “employees only” when necessary, while maintaining respect for businesses and their operations.

The restroom access provisions 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.

“This bill is about compassion and understanding for people living with serious medical conditions,” said Rep. Paradee, D-Dover West. “It’s part of the effort to educate the community about Crohn’s and other similar diseases, and ensure that Delawareans and those who visit our state are treated with respect and dignity.”

The measure allows 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 state agency. Businesses would not be required to make any changes or upgrades to restrooms that are not normally accessible to the public.

15-year-old Smyrna resident Morgan Burnett, who has Crohn’s, brought the restroom access issue to Rep. Paradee’s attention prior to the start of this year’s legislative session. Living with the disease can be a constant struggle to avoid potentially embarrassing situations that could arise from its symptoms, she said. Even a simple family day trip has to be carefully planned around access to public restrooms.

“This law means there’s hope for people like us,” Morgan said. “And it’s great to know that there are people out there who see what we are going through and want to help us.”

The new law also includes language that considers situations when restroom access would cause a safety issue for a business, as well as a warning for a business that breaks the restroom access rules, prior to receiving a $100 fine for subsequent violations.

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.

At least 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.