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Judge rejects lawmakers’ coronavirus control requests

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge says he won’t order the Idaho Legislature to require stricter coronavirus precautions while a lawsuit from two lawmakers moves forward. Meanwhile, disability-rights groups filed another lawsuit against the Legislature on Monday also seeking more coronavirus protections.

U.S. District Judge David Nye issued a written ruling Tuesday saying that Democratic Reps. Sue Chew of Boise and Muffy Davis of Ketchum 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.

Chew and Davis filed the lawsuit against Speaker of the House Scott Bedke and the Legislature last week, noting that the lawmaking body isn’t following pandemic guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention like requiring mask-wearing. Chew, who has diabetes, and Davis, a paraplegic with reduced lung function, contend they are both at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 and that conditions at the Statehouse violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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 object to rules requiring lawmakers to vote in person when the Legislature voted on the rules in December.

Idaho’s legislative session started Monday, and many lawmakers and visitors do not wear masks within the Statehouse.
The Legislature, Bedke and Senate Pro Tempore Chuck Winder were named as defendants in another lawsuit filed in federal court Monday afternoon over the lack of coronavirus precautions. That case, brought by several disability-rights organizations, also contends that officials have failed to make reasonable accommodations to ensure that people with conditions that put them at greater risk of severe medical problems from COVID-19 can still participate in the legislative process.

In the lawsuit, the groups contend legislative leadership denies the risk of coronavirus.

“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 groups’ attorneys, Wendy Olson and Elijah M. Watkins of Stoel Rives, wrote in the lawsuit.

The lawmaker’s failure to make accommodations effectively denies disabled residents and other people at risk from coronavirus their “right to advocate on issues that matter to them without unduly risking their health and safety,” the attorneys wrote.

Attorneys for the Legislature, Winder and Bedke told the federal judge that they plan to file a written response to the lawsuit. But it hadn’t yet been filed on Tuesday afternoon.

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