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New bathroom access bill hailed as victory for ‘human decency’

People with certain medical conditions who need to use toilets immediately will soon be allowed to use employee-only facilities in Massachusetts if no public one is available.

Governor Deval Patrick’s signature on Wednesday made Massachusetts the 13th state to pass a so-called restroom ­access bill. According to the bill’s supporters, inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis make bathroom access a more immediate concern. Only ­those with a doctor’s note would be allowed access to employee-
only facilities under the new law.

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Only retail businesses with three or more employees on duty will be subject to the law, which will indemnify them from lawsuits in cases where a person is injured while using their restrooms.

The bill was sponsored by state Representative Louis ­Kafka, Democrat of Stoughton, and supported by Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, who himself suffers from Crohn’s disease, accord­ing to a press release from the law’s supporters at Team Intestinal Fortitude.

About 1.4 million people nationally, including 30,000 in Massachusetts, suffer from ­inflammatory bowel diseases, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

Stephen Marcus of Easton, the New England chapter president of the foundation, said a similar law was put on the books in Washington after Pearl Jam guitarist Mike ­McCready, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, advocated for it.

“We think for human ­decency and dignity that the House, Senate, and the governor did the right thing by signing it into law,” Marcus said Thursday, saying his group got more active in pressing for a Massachusetts law after reading about retailers who ­opposed it.

In a statement, Kafka said, “This bill will provide peace of mind to people suffering from IBD, who will be able to shop without fear of a publicly ­embarrassing situation.”

Kafka pushed the bill for six years after filing it at the ­request of Canton attorney Jonathan Rutley, whose daughter Catie was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when she was 9 years old.

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