Saturday, February 27, 2021
Rep. Muffy Davis Files Lawsuit Asking for COVID Safety
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“I just want to be safe for my health and for my family’s health,” said Rep. Muffy Davis who took part in the Fourth of July parade thanking local health care workers for their work during the pandemic.
   
Saturday, January 9, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

In years past Rep. Muffy Davis would have been excited about heading off to the State Capitol for the start of a new legislative session.

But she is filled with dread as this year’s legislature is set to start on Monday.

Davis’s lungs are compromised, the result of a ski accident that paralyzed her when she was 16. And people with spinal cord injury at her level or higher are 37 times more likely to die of pneumonia than others.

“So, if I were to get pneumonia through COVID I could die,” she said.

Davis and her colleague Rep. Sue Chew of Boise, who has diabetes and hypertension, have been trying since August to get Rep. Scott Bedke, the Speaker of the House, to institute precautions that would make the Capitol Building safe for them and others with chronic health conditions.

But multiple letters and texts have gone unanswered. That led the two to file a lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to order Bedke to allow lawmakers to participate remotely in the upcoming legislative session.

“I didn’t want to file a lawsuit but we did because we never got a response back from House leadership,” Davis said.

The two legislators contend that Bedke has refused to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Idaho Gov. Brad Little recommending the wearing of masks when social distancing isn’t possible. And they say conditions at the statehouse violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The state was given $1.5 million in federal funding to improve technology and our ability for remote participation for the public. But they have not done anything except add more air filters and plexiglass,” Davis said. “They’re not requiring any safety procedures. There is no social distancing, no masks requirements.”

While most people have the choice of using the stairs or the elevator, Davis can’t get anywhere in the Capitol Building without taking the elevator. And, she said, everyone packs into the elevator maskless.

“I sit below everyone so when they’re unmasked and they talk or, heaven forbid, sneeze, droplets come down on me, and that’s part of what the doctor’s warned me about,” she said.

“I’m not asking to be able to work from home.  But I need to be in a safe place, not in the middle of the House floor with 70 other people around me, not including staff. Or, in committee rooms where there’s no social distancing and no requirements for masks. All we’re asking for is an enclosed office with good ventilation, preferably a window that can be opened, and the ability to do our job from that office. If they don’t want to give me an office, I could do it from my hotel, which is four, five blocks from the Capitol. If anything is needed, I can get to the Capitol.”

Sen. Majority Leader Michelle Stennett, who represents District 26 alongside Davis, and House Leader Ilana Rubel requested earlier that the legislative session be postponed until April when, they hope,   those Idahoans who so desire have had an opportunity to be vaccinated.

Proceeding in-person indoors with no masking or distancing flies in the face of public health guidance, sets the worst possible example and would likely contribute substantially to community transmission they said. Gov. Little echoed their sentiments, noting that the state house “is a pretty good petri dish for transmissible moments of COVID.”

But their request was turned down, even though neighboring states have postponed their sessions or gone to virtual sessions.

The lawsuit filed by Davis and Chew also notes that Bedke failed to control unmasked protestors who barged into the Capitol Building during last August’s special legislative session, shattering a glass door and crowding into chambers. The scene was eerily similar to that of rioters wearing anti-Semitic and Trump garb that forced themselves into the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday.

“I got trapped in a meeting room and had to have two police officers pull me through a rioting crowd,” Davis said. “Then to watch what happened in D.C. on Wednesday… It’s what we lived through during the special session, and there were more guns at our place.”

Davis hopes that a judge will hear her lawsuit early next week and make a decision that will enable her to do her job safely. She’s also hopeful that rioters will not barge into the Capitol Building once again.

“I fear that what happened in D.C. has empowered the far right to do more here in Idaho,” she said. “I know the Capitol Police, Idaho State police and Boise police are on standby and they’re prepared---hopefully better prepared than the D.C. Capitol Police were. I think the public should be able to have their voice heard but not violently.”

 

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