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Pregnant lawmaker says GOP leaders won't allow her to work virtually

When Arizona lawmakers return to the Capitol for a new legislative session on Monday, they’ll do so with minimal restrictions that could help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The decision to do away with virtual options for debate and voting angered Rep. Athena Salman, who on Friday morning tweeted that House Speaker Rusty Bowers had ignored her request to work remotely since she’s due to give birth on Jan. 11, the second day of session.

Salman told KJZZ News that Democratic leadership was informed that Republican officials who set rules for the chamber “have decided to end all virtual, remote participation away from the Capitol.”

“It’s incredibly stressful and disturbing that they are expecting me, a pregnant woman who is about to give birth, to have to expose myself in order to be able to be in attendance and participate this first week of session,” the Tempe Democrat said. “It’s not only concerning for my own health, but it also just very much alarms me, as someone who’s about to be a mother to a newborn child, and what those repercussions could mean to a newborn baby.”

The omicron variant of COVID-19 is causing a steep surge in cases in Arizona. As of Friday, the state is averaging more than 9,000 new cases per day.

A House spokesman did not respond to questions about chamber policies in the new year. But Bowers, a Mesa Republican, told the Arizona Mirror that representatives who are absent for any reason will not be allowed to vote remotely.

In 2021, House policy allowed lawmakers to virtually attend committee hearings, affording them an opportunity to debate and vote from beyond the Capitol. Lawmakers could also virtually cast votes during floor proceedings.

The Senate had similar policies as the pandemic ravaged Arizona in 2021, but President Karen Fann, a Prescott Republican, said Friday that the chamber this year “is trying to get back to as normal as possible.”

“We will make some accommodations for those that are vulnerable, we will make sure that we keep sanitizing every hour, frequently, and making sure that we keep it as safe as possible,” Fann said at an Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry luncheon.

If Bowers and Republican House leaders don’t change the policy, Salman said she’ll “have” to skip opening ceremonies.

“There’s some things in life that are too precious and too important,” she said. “And protecting my future child is one of those things that I won’t be bullied into compromising. But you know, they would then be forcing me to sacrifice being able to be the voice for my district.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated to clarify lawmakers can virtually casts votes during floor proceedings. 

Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.