Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly hears fifth night of testimony on mask ordinance, with more to come

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday heard a fifth night of public testimony on a proposed mask ordinance, with dozens of people lined up to testify in person.

The Assembly did not vote and a special meeting is set for Thursday at 5 p.m. to continue testimony and debate on the ordinance, which is aimed at slowing high rates of COVID-19. As written, it would require people in Anchorage to wear masks indoors in public spaces.

Some who testified Tuesday said they had been waiting to speak since the first meeting last Tuesday.

Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said she does not know when public testimony will finally wrap up and whether the Assembly will need to set another meeting after Thursday to continue debate over the ordinance. LaFrance said the Assembly will continue to hear public testimony until residents are done testifying.

Assembly members have proposed 14 amendments to the mask ordinance. They include removing a section allowing for private enforcement actions, in which a resident could submit a written complaint to a city administrative hearings officer.

Another proposed amendment would potentially change the expiration date of the ordinance, which as currently written is Dec. 31. Under the amendment, that would change to whenever the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer recommends masking of all individuals when communities are at a substantial or high alert risk level, or when Anchorage drops and stays below that level for seven days.

A large part of the crowd that has shown up at the Assembly chambers this week to testify has repeatedly told Assembly members they “will not comply” with a mask mandate, cheering and clapping other anti-mask testifiers. A few other in-person testifiers implored the Assembly to implement the mandate.

Meetings on Monday and Tuesday were more subdued than the first three meeting last week. Those were punctuated with insults, outbursts, arrests and national outrage after Mayor Dave Bronson initially defended the use of Holocaust imagery to express mask opposition. Bronson later apologized.

On Tuesday, most who testified in person spoke against the ordinance. Last week, in person and phone testimony was more evenly divided. Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said that as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Assembly had received 821 written testimonies against the mask ordinance and 1,520 in favor of it.

The dozens of people showing up to speak at each night and Assembly members asking many questions of testifiers have drawn out the process to span multiple meetings. On Tuesday, Assembly member Jamie Allard, a vocal opponent of COVID-19 mandates and the proposed mask ordinance, continued to ask questions of many who testified.

The meeting was further slowed by Assembly members and the administration arguing over proper procedure. Public testimony continues Thursday.


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