The Right of Idaho Representatives to Accommodations
By Todd DeVries
On July 26, 1990, President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. An iconic image from that time shows a group of demonstrators abandoning their wheelchairs and crawling up the steps of the US Capitol. Their actions graphically demonstrate the impact that a barrier creates for a person with a disability when barred from full and free access to the benefits of work, play and self-expression.
Representative Muffy Davis is from Blaine County, has paraplegia and reduced lung function. Sue Chew has diabetes and represents ADA County. These elected officials believe that what the legislature has done to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is insufficient to keep them safe in light of their disabilities. They claimed protection under the ADA. When they filed their request for accommodation to the way the legislature deals with the virus, thee representatives activated a well-tried and tested process to determine whether their claim was reasonable.
The employer (Idaho) must consider the request and decide whether the accommodation substantially changes the job. The state determined that installing air filters and plexiglass shields and reducing the number of people allowed into the hearing rooms are sufficient.
Representatives Davis and Chew disagree. They have the right to file a case in federal court demanding that the state change its policy.
Unfortunately, House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder frame their response as a states’ rights issue. They mount the conservative hobby horse of judicial overreach. They argue that the representatives seek the federal courts to “infiltrate Idaho Legislature to force the Speaker and Pro Team to override constitutionally authorized House and Senate Rules.”
The ADA allows an employee to challenge an employer’s decision. We call it the rule of law. Finding facts and being procedural is how conflicts find a resolution. When we abandon the rule of law, we hadn’t control of the government to the mob – to the whim of the moment. This case is not about federal courts “infiltrating” into state affairs. It is about the right of citizens to advocate for access to full participation.
Too many Americans with disabilities face attitudinal, technological, and physical barriers every day. As a person who is blind and experiences these effects, access to an impartial third party is essential. Without another perspective, the ADA has no teeth. We applaud the efforts of representatives Davis and Chew for exercising their civil rights. We call upon Speaker Bedke and President Pro Tem Winder to accept the process and present evidence supporting their solution. Let the process play out. Let the ADA work as intended.