Remembering Sen. Hatch’s work to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act
SALT LAKE CITY — Among the hundreds of pieces of legislation that Sen. Orrin Hatch helped to pass during his time in Congress, the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, ranks among the most important.
KSL’s Carole Mikita talked with her brother, Steve Mikita, who was a law clerk for Hatch, and influenced his decision to help sponsor it.
J. Stephen Mikita remembers Hatch with gratitude.
“Orrin Hatch gave me a chance. He gave me the opportunity to show what I could do, despite some of my limitations,” he said.
Steve was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and he used a wheelchair since childhood.
He retired last summer after 39 years as an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Utah.
When Steve was a law school student at Brigham Young University, Hatch invited him to clerk for him in Washington, D.C. — first in the summer of 1980 when he was on the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was a presidential election year, and Steve recalls how exciting it was to be in the nation’s Capitol.
“Ted Kennedy was the chair of the committee, and Orrin was the second ranking member behind Strom Thurmond and Bob Dole.”
And then, Steve returned in the summer of 1981 when the power had shifted to the Republicans.
“Senator Hatch became chair of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.”
Their discussions about disabilities stayed with the Senator, and, he said, influenced him in 1990 to help pass the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act — a monumental civil rights law protecting all people with disabilities against discrimination in housing, employment, access to public buildings, and more.
“Orrin made some critical amendments to that legislation that allowed for overwhelming majorities in both Houses of Congress to enact the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Steve said. “I was so proud to be, to have worked for a man who was one of the primary movers of that legislation.”
In 1993, Steve appeared on “The Sally Jesse Raphael Show” to talk about living with a disability. Hatch sent her a message that aired on that show, thanking Steve.
“Orrin Hatch was a real, very intense individual, but he had a very, very soft heart,” Steve said. “He would really pay attention to me when I was really a young, upstart looking for a mentor, and he took me under his wing.”
Just a few years ago, Steve was flying to Washington, D.C. for a meeting and Hatch was on the same flight. The Senator moved to another seat to accommodate Steve.
“Orrin never forgot our relationship, and he treated me, throughout my career, as almost a family member,” Steve said.
When asked about he thinks of Hatch’s legacy, Steve replied, “He was a man who was founded on principles, faith in the American people, and faith in God. And that allowed him to cross the aisle on many major pieces of legislation, like the ADA, to forget compromise for the better good of all of us.”
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