Democratic congressional candidate Kenley Brunsdale says incumbent Republican Rep. James Hansen's much-publicized amendment to guarantee handicapped access to wilderness areas is unnecessary, since such access already is provided.
Indeed, Brunsdale contends, the 1st District congressman's bill seeks to generate publicity for political gain.Critics also charge that the Utah Republican voted twice on the House floor to attempt, in effect, to kill the bill to which his amendment was attached by sending it back to committee.
Hansen's eventual floor votes to approve that legislation were intended for "public consumption" and came after efforts to quietly sidetrack the bill had failed, Brunsdale said.
Hansen, meantime, defends those votes as efforts to improve other parts of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. The bill was approved by both houses in July and quickly signed into law by President Bush.
Brunsdale said Hansen was not among the House members who co-sponsored the bill to protect the rights of the disabled. The Democrat accused Hansen of voting for several diluting amendments.
"There was never a single sincere effort to help the handicapped in anything he did," Brunsdale said. "Now he claims credit for interest in the handicapped, and the record just doesn't hold water."
Hansen said he offered the amendment because the Wilderness Act of 1964 specifically prohibited wheelchairs, a claim disputed by critics. They insist that the policies and regulations of the federal agencies recognize and permit use of wheelchairs in wilderness areas.
The 1964 Wilderness Act prohibits "mechanical transport" but does not mention wheelchairs. Most federal agencies that control access to wilderness have expressly allowed them.
Hansen maintained his amendment was indeed necessary, saying that without it, federal agencies were breaking the law when they allow wheelchairs in wilderness areas.
"You cannot have a policy or regulation . . . that violates a law set by Congress," said Hansen spokesman Rick Guldan.