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House considers temporary change to accommodate social distancing

Posted at 4:45 PM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-21 09:51:25-05

BOISE — A potential rule change could allow for more social distancing on the house floor, but some say it's not enough to keep a few members of the house with disabilities safe.

All debate must happen from the house floor, but some legislators feel COVID-19 compromises their ability to stay safe. After a bill to address the issue was shot down on a party-line vote Friday, a new bill was introduced Tuesday by GOP members.

"This bill would allow the speaker, for this session only, to designate another spot within the house floor for people to speak from. So, you can envision that over by one of the doors. Always on the house floor, it wouldn't remove debate from the house floor. It would continue on the house floor but you could distance that microphone for debate from other folks for a distance of six feet or greater," Republican Rep. Megan Blanksma, Hammet, said.

The house minority says that's not enough for a representative to feel safe since they will still be required to be in a high traffic area, where most representatives do not wear masks.

"So really, that's all we were asking for, is for these members during the pandemic, it would only last till the end this session, give them permission to be able to participate virtually. They can speak and vote virtually over the next couple of months, only until we get through this," Democratic Rep. Ilana Rubel, Boise, said.

Both sides have been critical of the other. Democrats are being accused of using this issue for fundraising money. Speaker Scott Bedke said Monday in a press release:

"In light of recent events, it has become clear that the minority has no interest in problem-solving and would prefer instead to take advantage of the situation of their own manufacture," states House Speaker Scott Bedke. "In the interest of the complaining members of the minority and the lack of action by their leadership, by way of House Rule 63, I have re-assigned office space to better accommodate minority members."

"The democrats dramatically scaled back their ask to something they thought was incredibly modest and hard to say no to frankly. Again, it was something that costs no money and didn't make anyone do anything they didn't want to do. Only impacted two legislators and was very temporary," Rubel said.

Blanksma said her party work needs to be done on the house floor, like the existing rule states.

"We were trying to work in good faith, and so in the obscene of feeling like we can work in good faith, that is part of why we brought this rule forward was to try and make everyone as comfortable as possible within the house rules," Blanksma said.

Now that it's introduced, it will be in possession of the chairman, where he can schedule a hearing for it, or the discussion can continue with potential new rules being added.

As we previously reported, Rep. Muffy Davis and Rep. Sue Chew have filed a federal lawsuit stating the house is not accommodating their specific risk from COVID-19, which they say is a violation of the American Disabilities Act. There have been no updates to that case.