Saturday, September 19, 2020
Legislation Preventing COVID Liability Passes House Raising Concern
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Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, was among those who worried that some businesses and organizations might shirk their responsibility to protect workers and clients from COVID in light of a bill offering immunity from liability.
   
Thursday, August 27, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

The Idaho House and Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would offer businesses and government agencies immunity from civil liability related to injury from the coronavirus, including for grossly negligent conduct. The bill awaits Gov. Brad Little's signature.

The legislature also passed two bills pertaining to the November election.

Dist. 26 Rep. Muffy Davis voted against the bill shielding businesses and schools from COVID-related lawsuits, saying that it allows an employer, business or institution to put Idahoans’ lives in danger without consequences.

“This legislation will not help Idahoans trust that we are working hard to keep them safe. We need to make sure that Idahoans are able to protect themselves from gross negligence if we want to restore confidence in our institutions and get our economy back on track,” she said. “Idahoans will not feel confident when the state is allowing immunity from deliberate and reckless disregard for the safety of Idaho communities.”

Rep. Melissa Wintrow of Boise said the legislation would relieve groups of the need to follow safety recommendations put forth by health experts.

“Teachers and students are being forced to go back to the classroom in many districts, despite their overwhelming fears of getting coronavirus and spreading it to loved ones,” she said. “The government is asking teachers, parents and students to take an enormous risk and then making sure that they are off the hook when Idahoans end up in the hospital or, in many cases, dying.”

House Democratic Leader Representative Ilana Rubel of Boise added that the bill would prevent genuinely meritorious lawsuits to protect victims of negligence and send a message that failure to take responsible care will carry no accountability.

“We are now almost six months into the pandemic, there have been over 30,000 COVID cases in Idaho and there has not been a single tort suit filed arising from COVID exposure. Idaho already has strong protections against frivolous litigation,” she said.

The passage of the bill comes amidst a particularly chaotic three days at the Statehouse. Gov. Brad Little called legislators back to Boise to deal with election issues in light of the pandemic and liability laws to protect businesses, schools and government agencies from lawsuits by those who contract the virus.

But more than a hundred protesters led by Ammon Bundy, who led the 2016 takeover of the Malheur County Wildlife Refuge, pushed their way into the statehouse on Monday shattering a glass door in the process. They were allowed to take their seats in the Statehouse even though it prevented social distancing.

Idaho State Police arrested Bundy on Tuesday after he refused to leave a room when ordered to do so. Troopers booked Bundy and two others for misdemeanor trespassing, handcuffing Bundy to a chair and rolling him out on it after he refused to leave on his own.

Bundy was arrested a second time on Wednesday and booked into the Ada County jail on misdemeanor trespassing and resisting and obstructing charges.

He was also issued a no trespassing notice, which forbids him to step foot in the Capitol Building for a year after state authorities determined his refusal to comply with the lawful orders to protect the safety of persons and properties threatened to interfere with the conduct of government business.

As chaos continued, the Idaho House approved a resolution Tuesday by a vote of 48-20 to end Gov. Brad Little’s coronavirus emergency declaration, imposing restrictions across the state.

The Idaho’s Attorney General’s Office produced a letter saying the resolution is unconstitutional because it was not included among the governor’s list of topics to be considered during the special session. And critics said that Idaho will lose funds from FEMA and other federal programs if it becomes law.

But Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett countered, “We are putting our children in plexiglass cages. We are masking faces so those that are hearing-impaired feel lost and cannot function. We are masking faces so that children like my grandson, who is borderline autistic, is traumatized by faces he can’t see. It is time to return to normal. Not a new normal, to normal, to freedom, to liberty, to being Americans in a free country.”

An Idaho Statesman editorial writer responded that what a return to “normal” is are the days when Blaine County experienced a sharp spike in cases, infecting health care workers and shutting down its hospital.

“That’s what ‘normal’ will look like in the pandemic. The coronavirus didn’t go anywhere,” Scott McIntosh wrote. “Thinking we’ll return to normal by ending the emergency declaration is like saying …. that we can stop drunk driving by getting rid of DUI laws.”

Addressing something that was on Little’s agenda, the legislature passed a bill that will guarantee in-person voting in some form across Idaho, regardless of any restrictions posed by the coronavirus. A second bill will allow county clerks to open absentee ballots seven days before Election Day in order to verify signatures. They would not count the votes until election Day.

But they declined to approve a bill that would have allowed voters to go to any voting center in-person. County clerks had pushed that measure because they fear they may not get enough volunteers to work the polls in November.


 

 

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