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Museum Resists Blind Vendor Hiring Order

OAHU, Hawaii (CN) - A Hawaiian submarine museum is challenging a court order that would force it to hire blind vendors as part of a government program, saying the requirement threatens its operating revenue.

In a complaint filed in Federal Court, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park argues that, because it receives only private funding, it isn't bound by the Randolph-Sheppard Act, which requires federal agencies to give preference to the sightless when hiring food service vendors.

The law was enacted in 1936 to encourage blind workers and entrepreneurs. According to the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, there are currently more than 3,100 participating facilities.

But Bowfin Museum managers say a November 2008 court order mandating new contracts for blind vendors threatens the museum's main source of revenue: food and beverage sales. The cost of dry-docking the on-site submarine exceeds $1 million, they say, and any disturbance to the museum's cash supply would put the museum in danger of closing.

The Department of Human Service's insistence that the museum comply with the order "threatens the Bowfin Museum with irreparable harm," argues Michael Lilly, the museum's attorney. He seeks to nullify the order.

"If you're not bound by a statute, why would you roll over to accommodate its provisions?" he asked. Lilly added that the museum has not had the opportunity to present its argument; it was not a party to the litigation that prompted the 2008 order.

According to the curators, the USS Bowfin is the only American WWII submarine maintained at a museum entirely without federal funding.

The museum leases its land from the Navy, however, making the applicability of the Randolph-Sheppard Act less clear.

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