A Ketchum lawmaker has filed a lawsuit against the Idaho State Legislature and House Speaker Scott Bedke, asking to work remotely during the upcoming 2021 legislative session and use a self-contained office in light of the health risks of COVID-19.
Democrat Rep. Muffy Davis, a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair, filed the lawsuit Thursday along with Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise. Both representatives cited health issues that put them at high risk of contracting a severe case of the virus.
The session is set to begin on Monday, Jan. 11.
Davis told the Idaho Mountain Express she filed the lawsuit after reaching out to House leadership multiple times throughout November and December, including via an official Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) request on Dec. 31. Davis said she did not receive a response.
“It’s unfortunate,” Davis said. “This is not what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to file a lawsuit.”
As it stands now, Davis and Chew argue, Bedke and the Legislature have not provided them reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The complaint notes that “many legislators decline to wear masks” and argues that social distancing is “difficult and impossible at times” on the House floor. Maintaining a safe distance will also likely prove challenging in the statehouse stairways and elevators, and in the open-air cubicles that function as legislators’ offices, the lawsuit says.
Davis and Chew “have been advised not to participate under these circumstances on the House floor and will be forced to limit [their] appearances and possibly miss procedural votes to protect [their] health,” the complaint states. “By failing to provide reasonable ways for Plaintiffs to access and participate, the State of Idaho is failing to provide a safe and healthy place for Plaintiffs unless reasonable accommodations are made to allow such participation.”
Davis has “on several occasions” this year sent emails to House leadership asking for the opportunity to participate in legislative proceedings remotely, but did not receive a response, according to the lawsuit.
Now Davis and Chew are taking legal action, asking for the ability to participate in the 2021 session remotely and for access to self-contained offices with doors.
Allowing lawmakers to cast votes remotely would require two-thirds approval by members of the Idaho House of Representatives. In other states, including Utah, Wyoming and Montana, legislators have been given the choice to participate remotely or appear in person, the lawsuit notes.
Bedke, R-Oakley, responded to the complaint in a statement Thursday.
“Though it’s unfortunate that negotiations have taken this turn, I will continue to move forward in good faith toward a solution workable for all members,” he said. “I can assure everyone that the Leadership Team from the House Republican Caucus is working to make a safe and productive environment where we can complete our business as quickly and effectively as possible.”