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John Boyle

John Boyle, director of facilities management, answers questions in front of the House Government and Veterans Affairs committee regarding handicap accessibility to the North Dakota Capitol.

A House bill raised concerns about the accessibility of the Capitol and to the credit of legislators they are in the process of taking action.

House Bill 1298 was originally intended as an effort to move accessible parking closer to the public entrance of the Capitol. However, after the Government and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony about the difficulty some people have navigating the Capitol, the committee amended the bill to call for a study of handicapped-accessible parking and other concerns.

Along with parking issues, testimony focused on the need for more accessible restrooms, better signs to direct the public and additional seating areas. The parking lot closest to the public entrance has two handicapped-accessible parking spaces that are 350 feet to 370 feet away from the entrance. Those parking spaces can be quickly filled during the busy legislative session.

While the Capitol is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, it doesn’t mean improvements aren’t needed. Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, the primary sponsor of the bill, cited a narrow wheelchair ramp at the public entrance that’s difficult to use. He also recommended adding benches so people can stop and rest, and better directional signs.

Some of these improvements probably can be made without legislative action. Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, suggested the striping of additional handicapped-accessible parking spaces in the visitor lot could be done without the Legislature getting involved. Still, it makes sense to do a study of the Capitol and come up with a list of improvements and an estimate of costs.

It could cost $50,000 to hire an engineer to design plans to redo the visitor parking lot, according to estimates by John Boyle, director of facilities management. That’s a small cost to improve safety.

More than one person has referred to the Capitol as the people’s house, and it is. It should be accessible to everyone. During a legislative session there are issues that are vital to citizens who have difficulty getting around. Something as simple as benches can make visiting the Capitol more enjoyable if you tire easily. It’s important that people are able to attend committee hearings and have the opportunity to testify. During legislative sessions it would be useful to have staff monitor the parking lots on a regular basis and provide assistance to those who need it.

This is a good time for the Legislature to lead by example. If the Senate approves HB1298 and the governor signs the bill, it could be a stimulus for other state offices, local entities, businesses and schools to review accessibility. There are often improvements that can be made for the physically challenged or those slowed by age.

The Legislature needs to approve HB1298.

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