2 Republicans suing party claim accommodations not made for their disabilities

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two Republicans are suing both the state and Utah County GOP, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and others in federal court, claiming they were discriminated against because accommodations weren't made for their disabilities at party meetings.

Aaron Heineman, who is deaf, and Eliza McIntosh Stauffer, who is paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair, are asking the court to find that the Americans with Disabilities Act has been violated.

They are also seeking changes to party policies to comply with the federal law enacted in 1990 and intended to ensure that disabled individuals are "never relegated to a position of political powerlessness" as well as unspecified damages.

Besides Cox, whose office oversees elections in the state, the lawsuit names former Utah GOP Chairman James Evans and former Utah County GOP Chairman Craig Frank.

State Elections Director Justin Lee said Monday that the lieutenant governor's office had not seen the lawsuit. Lee said the office doesn't "oversee how conventions are run. That's a party function, so we're not sure why we would be included."

Heineman, according to the lawsuit, had been told by a state GOP official that a sign language interpreter would be hired for a Utah County caucus meeting in 2016 where he was running to be a delegate.

He was later told that the county had arranged for someone to assist him who had only "rudimentary" skills rather than being certified as an American Sign Language interpreter, the lawsuit said.

Heineman, who the lawsuit indicates has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, lost his bid to become a delegate and later ran as an Independent American candidate for the 3rd Congressional District seat vacated by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

In Stauffer's case, the lawsuit states that votes taken at the GOP's 2016 state convention required delegates to stand up to be counted, despite objections from Stauffer and other delegates unable to do so.

She and others later held a protest at party headquarters.

Evans, one of two dozen candidates for the now-vacant state party vice chairman position, said about the interpreter issue that the Utah County GOP had said the issue was handled.

"Utah County had secured services," Evans said. "I just want to be clear services were provided."

He said whether the interpretation service was adequate is "certainly a discussion worth having."

As for votes at the state party convention that required standing, Evans said they were "not about the primary vote," but an effort to clarify previous votes taken by raising credentials.

"None of the votes changed. It was just me trying to be clear," Evans said. He said he supports ongoing "efforts to make sure that we have a convention and a caucus where everyone can participate."

At this year's GOP state convention, held on April 21, delegates were told repeatedly during a contentious debate that no standing votes would be held in order to comply with federal law.

Current Utah GOP Chairman Rob Anderson said two weeks before the convention, he met with Stauffer and others about accommodating those with disabilities and "we bent over backward to ensure we were in compliance."

Anderson said the party surveyed delegates before the convention to determine if any had special needs. He said no one asked for help, but the party "had volunteers willing to assist anyone."

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Lisa Riley Roche


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