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A federal lawsuit has been filed against House Speaker Scott Bedke on behalf of two Democratic state representatives with disabilities, charging that he’s not provided sufficient accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act for them to participate in the upcoming legislative session without seriously compromising their health. The lawsuit asks that Reps. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, and Sue Chew, D-Boise, be provided with self-contained offices for the session, rather than just cubicles, and that they be allowed to participate and vote remotely in the session from those offices. “These people have a serious, serious exposure to COVID,” said Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, the attorney who filed the lawsuit in federal District Court in Boise.

Neither of the Democratic lawmakers was allocated one of the new first-floor offices that are enclosed and have doors.

“Nobody wants to do this,” Gannon said. “I think this is the last thing any of us want to do, but these two friends and co-workers have disabilities that will make them very, very seriously ill from COVID. And this whole thing has become political, but for them it’s not political, it’s real serious.”

Bedke issued a statement saying, “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. 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.”

He has maintained that lawmakers can’t participate remotely in the legislative session without changing legislative rules, which requires a two-thirds vote. He also oversaw allocation of House offices, amid much dissent, during the organizational session in early December.

Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder have decided to hold the legislative session that begins Monday in-person with no mask requirements for lawmakers; Democratic caucuses in both houses requested that if COVID-19 safety measures such as masking, social distancing and remote participation can’t be guaranteed, that the session be delayed until COVID vaccines are more widespread in Idaho. Bedke and Winder declined.

Gannon said of the two Democratic lawmakers, “Neither they nor I want to do it (sue), but we don’t have a choice. The Legislature is going to start on Monday.” You can read a full story here at from AP reporter Keith Ridler.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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