Another lawsuit filed against Idaho’s legislative leaders over COVID risks at Statehouse
By Ruth Brown from Idaho Statesman, January 12, 2021
Another lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court against the Idaho Legislature, House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate Pro Tempore Chuck Winder over a lack of COVID-19 restrictions in the Statehouse.
The plaintiffs request that they make arguments in court and Legislative leadership allows “the right to participate fully and safely in the 2021 Idaho Legislative Sessionand ordering defendants to grant a reasonable modification that ensures plaintiffs can safely and fully participate in the Idaho legislative process.”
The lawsuit names various disability-rights organizations as plaintiffs. It was filed by Wendy Olson, of Stoel Rives LLP, who is a former Idaho U.S. Attorney, and Elijah M. Watkins, also of Stoel Rives.
Plaintiffs named include Ahniah Selene; Kassie Howe; Mark Leeper, executive director of the Disability Action Center – Northwest Inc.; Amy Cunningham, executive director of DisAbility Rights Idaho; Jeremy Maxand, executive director of Living Independence Network Corporation Idaho; Heather Clarke, deputy director of Life, A Center for Independent Living; and Zoe Ann Olson, executive director of Intermountain Fair Housing Council.
The lawsuit alleges that legislative leadership denies the risk of COVID-19’s transmission.
“They have also permitted unmasked, unlawful private militia groups and armed individuals to intimidate and coerce legislators and members of the public in the legislative chambers and committee rooms,” the lawsuit states.
The advocates claim lawmakers are “denying them their right to advocate on issues that matter to them without unduly risking their health and safety.”
Plaintiff Selene is a quadriplegic who uses a power chair for mobility, and his lung capacity is severely diminished, according to court documents. He also has asthma, which is treated with the use of inhalers, 24-hour nebulization treatment, and oxygen.
Plaintiff Howe takes medication that leaves her immunocompromised, making her more susceptible to coronavirus. She also uses a service dog that cannot properly do its job if crowds refuse to adhere to social distancing rules, according to court documents.
Plaintiffs argue that Legislative leadership’s decision violates the First Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The state has not yet filed a response to the complaint, as of Tuesday morning.
Last week, two Democratic representatives, Reps. Sue Chew, of Boise, and Muffy Davis, of Ketchum, filed a similar lawsuit against Bedke and the Legislature. Their lawsuit cites fear over the coronavirus risks and crowd control challenges at the Statehouse.
In that suit, The Associated Press reported that U.S. District Judge David Nye issued a written ruling Tuesday saying that Chew and Davis didn’t justify the need for a temporary order allowing them to vote remotely or directing the Legislature to take other measures intended to slow the spread of the contagious illness.
The judge turned down their request for a preliminary order while the lawsuit moves forward, saying that some already-offered accommodations – including allowing Chew and Davis to select their own seats, having plexiglass installed around their desks and allowing them to wear masks – are reasonable protections.
Nye also said the lawmakers failed to show that any specific lawmaker or person in the Statehouse currently has COVID-19 and is at risk of spreading the illness. He noted that they didn’t vote object to rules requiring lawmakers to vote in person when the Legislature voted on the rules in December.