Unusual Bill Grants Opens Access to Retail Restrooms

By Becca Heller, Becca@MarylandReporter.com

ANNAPOLIS—Legislators work on big issues like gun control, the death penalty and taxes, but then there are hundreds of other bills addressing smaller problems that fly under the radar.

The governor just signed a bill into law that expands access to an “employees only” bathroom in a retail store for individuals suffering from Crohn’s disease or other medical conditions that require immediate access to a restroom.

“When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go,” said Del. Norman Conway, D-Wicomico, sponsor of HB 1183.

The new law tells the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to provide individuals with identification cards which, signed by a person’s primary physician, identify the person’s medical condition and grant them unlimited access to otherwise-restricted restrooms.

“This is a recognition of some serious problems that individuals have like Crohn’s disease,” said Conway. “To most people, this probably seems like an unusual bill unless you happen to be one of those individuals.”

There was an unsuccessful attempt to pass a similar bill last year.

Retailers objected

“We had this bill last year, it didn’t get out because the retailers weren’t comfortable with it,” said Sen. Thomas Middleton, chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

Conway and the bill’s co-sponsors, however, proposed several tweaks to current law that were unanimously accepted by committee members and, ultimately, signed into law.

Currently, any retail institution with 20 or more employees is required to offer up access to facilities to individuals who suffer from medical conditions like Crohn’s disease.

HB 1183 changes this statute to apply to any retail institution with 3 or more working employees, but it also provides the special ID card to ensure that individuals are not taking advantage of the law.

The DHMH endorsed the new initiative, and will soon begin the distribution of the identification cards.

“We’re very comfortable that this represents a good position for us to help people who do often have problems in retail establishments and need to use the facility,” said Clifford Mitchell, chief of the Office of Environmental, Occupational, and Injury Epidemiology for the DHMH.

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