FRANKFORT — A House committee reversed itself Wednesday and approved "Cooper's Law," which would nullify deed restrictions on small outdoor structures deemed medically necessary for children 12 and younger.
"We have a long journey ahead of us, but it was a positive move forward for special-needs children," said the bill's tearful sponsor, Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Jeffersonville.
House Bill 160, which proceeds to the full House, is named for a Lexington boy whose parents are feuding with the Andover Forest Home owners Association. Cooper Veloudis uses an outdoor playhouse to help with his cerebral palsy. The association says the playhouse violates a deed restriction that applies to all homes in the neighborhood.
The House Local Government Committee rejected the bill Feb. 1, with lawmakers arguing against state involvement in a local property dispute that probably would play out in court.
But several members changed their votes to support a different version of the bill Wednesday. The substitute bill would require "good faith efforts" by homeowners to negotiate with their associations before deed restrictions are nullified, and it would require outside mediation for any dispute related to architectural aesthetics.
The new version of the bill also limits the protected structures to 100 square feet.
"What we're trying to incorporate here is middle ground," Henderson told the committee, surrounded by the Veloudis family, including a squirming Cooper. "If it blights the community, we don't want it. We're out to protect the needs of both parties."
Deborah Slaton, a resident of Andover Forest, told the committee she objected to the compromise version of the bill.
Among its problems, the bill does not specify the shape of an outside structure, so a 100-square-foot playhouse could be two feet wide and 50 feet tall, Slaton said. And giving medical proof that a child needs a playhouse means comparatively little in a state where prescription pill epidemics show that doctors sometimes act without just cause, she said.
Slaton also objected to Cooper appearing at Wednesday's hearing, which she said was a play for lawmakers' sympathy.
"I notice that Cooper's parents brought him here today," she said. They "are literally holding up Cooper, trying to get him to influence you."
Henderson later said Cooper was present only because the family stopped in Frankfort on its way to Cincinnati.
If it becomes law, Henderson's bill would retroactively shield Cooper's playhouse from any lawsuits related to deed restrictions. However, that would require passage in the House and the Senate, which Henderson characterized as "a struggle." House Speaker Greg Stumbo has made sympathetic noises, he said.
"He has expressed his desire to possibly support it on the House floor," Henderson said.