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Editorial

April 16, 1997

Until members realized that humoring him would bring down the wrath of every advocate for the disabled in America, the U.S. Senate on Monday briefly bowed to Sen. Robert Byrd's objection and barred a vision-impaired Senate aide from entering the Senate floor with her guide dog. How far removed some lawmakers are from the concerns of ordinary people!

Had a retail shopkeeper decided not to admit a blind person with a guide dog to his store, those federal officials charged with enforcing the Americans With Disabilities Act would have jumped on him with a vengeance. Congress, in fact, bound itself to obey that law and others it imposes on others two years ago.

Sen. Byrd objected then, saying that an unscrupulous president could use such a law to pressure Congress. It's hard to see how, unless members of Congress were doing something illegal, like sexually harassing their staff members or forcing aides to work under conditions that adversely affected their health.

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Monday's flap began when Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. asked the senate to admit Moira Shea, a 20-year employee of the Department of Energy who advises him on energy matters to a debate on nuclear storage dumps. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but Shea suffers from a degenerative eye disease and has used a mixed-breed guide dog named Beau for the last two years.

Wyden's request drew an objection from Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., on behalf a Senator he would not name, a Senator who turned out to be Byrd.

Byrd, who watchdogs Senate procedure and protocol, said his objection was not to the dog, but to the fact that the request didn't go to the Senate's Rules and Administration Committee.

Despite Byrd's clout (he's the former majority leader) Wyden introduced a resolution to admit Miss Shea and Beau, which has passed the Senate overwhelmingly.

Since the matter is settled, you might ask, why comment on it. We do because it shows that for some members, at least, tradition was more important than the law and the feelings of one brave woman who opted to keep working despite her disability.

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