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U.N. Disability Rights Treaty Vote Again Thwarted in U.S. Senate

U.N. Disability Rights Treaty Vote Again Thwarted in U.S. Senate

With one anti-climactic procedural move, a single Senator stopped years of effort in its tracks, postponing until further notice Washington’s progress toward adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The global treaty, which has over 150 signatory countries, requires Senate ratification before President Obama’s signature.

On Wednesday, September 17, longtime public servant and disability champion Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), called for a unanimous consent vote on the treaty from the Senate floor.

In a repeat of the scenario that unfolded in the Senate the last time the Convention came up for discussion, the senator requested two hours of debate on the treaty with no amendments followed by an up-or-down vote.

However, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) objected moments later, saying that two hours of debate was insufficient and indicating that amendments should be allowed.

“There are a number of our colleagues, both on and off the committee, who have concerns with this treaty,” Lee said.

The U.N. Convention, which establishes an international standard for disability rights similar to what’s already in place domestically through the Americans with Disabilities Act, was signed by the United States in 2009, but Senate approval is needed for ratification and official participation.

The treaty is broadly supported by disability advocates and many civil rights, faith, business and veterans organizations.  However, critics spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association contend that the treaty would compromise U.S. sovereignty.

A previous effort in 2012 to ratify the U.N. Convention failed in the Senate on a largely party-lines vote.

Harkin said it was “another sad, irresponsible day in the U.S. Senate” after Lee’s objection derailed his hope for a new vote.