Fairfax County businesses could be required to spend only a set amount to comply with proposed new laws prohibiting discrimination against handicapped persons, according to a recommendation put forward this week by the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.
Chairman John F. Herrity recommended the cost limits after local businessmen and advocates for the handicapped reached a stalemate in their attempts to negotiate a compromise on the county's plan to include handicapped persons under a policy outlawing discrimination against minorities and women.
The Chamber of Commerce has fought the plan, arguing that its provisions are vague and compliance could cost a businessman hundreds of dollars.
Herrity said his recommendation was an effort to satisfy both groups.
"We're interested in protecting the rights of the handicapped without putting undue burdens on businessmen," he said Monday after introducing the proposal to the supervisors.
Herrity's ideas were sent to county attorneys for study and will be considered at the board's May 24 meeting. A vote on the proposed antidiscrimination ordinance already has been postponed twice in the past two months.
Under the chairman's proposal, a business with fewer than 25 full-time employes would not have to spend more than $200 to meet the new requirements, and firms with 25 or more employes could not be required to spend more than $400 each.
Businesses asked to spend more than those amounts could appeal to a special board the supervisors would establish.
In addition, businesses that showed no profits in the year before the law was imposed would not be required to spend any money to meet its provisions, under Herrity's recommendations.
As originally proposed, the handicapped-rights act could require employers to simplify jobs so that retarded persons could qualify for them, teach sign language to supervisors of deaf employes and supply readers to assist blind workers, according to staff reports.
It also could require businesses to make facilities used by all employes accessible to the handicapped by installing ramps, widening aisles and remodeling bathrooms.
Although several federal and state laws prohibit discrimination against the handicapped, some local officials argue that the laws often are not enforced and offer little recourse to persons who think they have been victims of discrimination.
The Fairfax County Human Rights Commission, which enforces local discrimination ordinances, receives about 36 complaints a year from handicapped persons, but currently has no authority to act on the complaints, a spokesman said.
An estimated 10 percent of the Fairfax County population has mental or physical disabilities, according to a study by the county's Commission for the Handicapped.