N.Y. bans bias against the young in public places


NEW YORK -- Babies today no longer may be banned from New York movie houses because they might cry.

Five-year-olds no longer may be barred from the city's museums because they might break rare artifacts or leave sticky fingerprints on priceless masterpieces.

Children under 12 no longer may be forbidden to visit hospital wards because they might carry infectious diseases.

Teen-agers no longer may be thrown out of stores or singled out as potential shoplifters.

New York will become the first city in the nation to attack discrimination against the young in public places -- violators face up to a $100,000 fine -- and Human Rights Commission Chairman Dennis deLeon said it's high time.

"In many urban centers, there really is an unfriendly attitude toward families and young people who don't fit in the yuppie singles scene," Mr. DeLeon said. "The bottom line is, movie theaters and museums and restaurants can exclude people who are disruptive, but they have got to start looking at young people as individuals as opposed to as a group."

A group of 24 "youth commissioners" in their teens and 20s were named last year to help draft the new law. Mr. DeLeon says age discrimination, including outright bans on shoppers under age 18 unless accompanied by an adult, happens a lot in New York.

"Macy's does that, and Century 21," Mr. DeLeon said.

"They will not let younger people in at all. I think it's true that many of the shoplifters are young people, but not every young person does that. You can't just say all young people should be excluded. It's really an anti-family kind of position."

Neither Macy's nor Century 21 returned phone calls, but it is reported that both chains plan formal objections to the new law.

Mr. DeLeon said restaurants also are going to have to change their ways. However, federal and state statutes restricting access to bars and R-rated movies remain in place.

Anyone objecting to the new regulations will be told to file for an exemption and make the case that to comply would endanger the public health and safety. That may be difficult for

restaurants, stores and theaters to prove, but not even hospitals are going to find it easy.

Susan Waltman, senior vice president and general counsel for the Greater New York Hospital Association, said she has been meeting with the Youth Commission and will file for an exemption.

"We'll be asking that health considerations be taken into account, but at the same time, we'll be asking our own members to be flexible and permit visitation when it seems appropriate from an infection-control standpoint," Ms. Waltman said.

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