House rejects remote-voting option for physically impaired reps on party-line vote

The Idaho House on Friday voted down Rep. Muffy Davis’ motion to suspend rules to allow her to vote remotely this session on an 11-49 party-line vote, leaving Davis, a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair, in tears.

“People’s health and welfare shouldn’t be partisan,” Davis, D-Ketchum, told the Idaho Press, her voice breaking. “And unfortunately this virus, which doesn’t care whether you’re disabled — it’s affecting everyone all over the world — has become a political pawn.”

“Life should be more important than that,” said Davis, a world-renowned Paralympic athlete who was injured in a ski-racing accident at age 16 that left her with impaired lung function as well as without the use of her legs.

The Idaho Press reported House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, noted that the motion was pared down at the last minute to make it as narrow as possible, allowing remote voting only for “a member of the House who has a physical impairment that places them at high risk for serious negative outcomes such as permanent physical damage or death if they were to contract COVID-19.”

“This was a very small ask,” Rubel said. “This is basically something that would’ve affected probably two people. … Most other legislatures are already doing this.”

Idaho GOP legislative leaders, who hold a large majority, have convened their session in person, and have refused to require masks or social distancing in their chambers, despite public health guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic. Their actions in their chambers are exempt from local public health orders because they’re a separate branch of government.

“This was basic humane relief we were asking for,” Rubel said. “It was kind of heartbreaking to see this go down on a party-line vote.”

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, strongly defended his “no” vote.

“We have rules inside this process, and every member, when they came in December, makes a decision whether they accept those rules or not,” he said.

During the Legislature’s organizational session in early December, existing rules were unanimously extended.

“To be less than a week into the session and then all of a sudden suspend all the rules doesn’t make any sense,” Crane said.

“From my perspective, I would not support somebody having the ability to vote remotely,” he said. “I think that they need to be here sitting in that seat inside the building. I think you get a much more representative form of government if you’re here.”

Crane added of Davis, “She took an oath of office and when she ran for office, she knew what the rules were. This is not new.”

A day earlier, Crane introduced legislation to eliminate all limits on gathering sizes statewide, removing them from GOP Gov. Brad Little’s current Stage 2 public health order for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Kevin Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said, “I hope that we can come to a solution, a way we can be conscious of her and her concerns, but I didn’t feel like that was the right way to do it.”

Said Rep. Brandon Mitchell, R-Moscow, “My concern is setting precedence for future legislative sessions.”

The motion would have expired at the end of this year’s session, or sooner if a majority of the House opted to lift it.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said he wasn’t surprised by the vote.

“It remains a difficult thing for most legislators to allow for offsite participation in the process,” he said. “The downside is that it’s outside of the rules and the technology is suspect, frankly.”

Rubel noted that when Davis and Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, filed a lawsuit seeking accommodations for this legislative session under the Americans with Disability Act, the judge, in declining their request for a temporary restraining order, noted that they hadn’t asked their colleagues to suspend the rules.

Now, she noted, they have. The lawsuit still is pending in U.S. District Court.

Chew suffers from diabetes and hypertension. She and Davis sought accommodations to allow them to safely represent their legislative districts during this year’s session without facing the risk of COVID-19.

Crane said, “If every member does that, we’re going to be having continual votes on changing the rules into perpetuity.”

He noted that legislative rules allow lawmakers to appoint a substitute to serve for them.

Shortly after the vote, Davis, a second-term House member who represents Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties, said, “I’m devastated.”

All Democrats who were present voted in favor of Davis’ motion; all Republicans who were present voted against it.

Davis noted that the Legislature received $1.4 million in federal CARES Act coronavirus aid for technology upgrades this year, and has added remote-testimony technology.

“We have it, it’s gone through,” she said.

“It was a simple request that for someone that’s high-risk, who has a young daughter that I don’t want to leave motherless …” She paused, fighting tears. “As an athlete, I’m used to being red, white and blue. That’s what I see. Unfortunately, our country has become red and blue. But we’re really all red, white and blue.”

Written by the Idaho Press

 

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