Politics

Alaska Gov. Dunleavy forbids state agencies from following federal vaccination mandates

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued an administrative order Tuesday prohibiting state agencies from assisting with a proposed federal vaccination requirement for large employers. It also requires Alaska’s attorney general to review all federal vaccination mandates and determine whether the state can challenge them in court.

Those measures are two of six points in the order, which the governor said is intended to “guard the Constitutional rights of individual Alaskans from federal overreach.”

The restrictions on state agencies do not apply to the University of Alaska, which announced Tuesday that it will require some employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting Dec. 8.

UA President Pat Pitney said the requirement is necessary to keep the university eligible for competitive federal grants, and while she personally opposes the federal mandate, she said she does not see an alternative.

An official at the Alaska Railroad, which faces a similar problem and rejected a mandate, said it is waiting for further legal guidance.

Beyond the vaccination issues, Dunleavy’s order appears to have limited immediate impact. Its other pieces deal with federal actions that are hypothetical, such as violations of the state or federal constitutions, or have been withdrawn, such as a proposed IRS banking rule. All of those topics have been widely discussed on conservative social media channels.

“President Biden is using the power of the federal government in ways that were never intended and is ignoring the sideboards placed on those powers by the U.S. Constitution,” said Jeff Turner, a spokesman for the governor, explaining the order.

Turner said the order was issued “based on complaints and concerns from all Alaskans, and the fact that President Biden is disregarding the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution and Alaska’s constitution.”

Former Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, now a candidate opposing Dunleavy in next year’s elections, said the order amounts to “partisan messaging.”

“Alaskans are tired of the governor wasting resources on ill-advised legal battles and partisan messaging,” Walker said. “It’s unfortunate Gov. Dunleavy doesn’t put his energy and resources toward getting more Alaskans vaccinated so we can open up our economy and put more Alaskans to work.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Les Gara said that Dunleavy “should be working overtime to find ways to convince people that vaccines are safe, save lives and are one of the only ways out of this pandemic.”

Vaccination is the most effective method of reducing the severity of COVID-19 symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, Alaska joined nine other states in a lawsuit to block the executive order that requires federal contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but several Republican state legislators said on Tuesday that they have heard from constituents worried about losing their jobs because of a separate, forthcoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule that would require companies with at least 100 employees to require COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing for COVID-19.

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, said she believes the governor’s order on Tuesday “is probably doing a lot of what my constituents have wanted overall.”

“Broadly speaking,” she said, “I think this is going in the right direction.”

IRS bank account proposals

Another section of Tuesday’s order addresses a now-withdrawn plan to have the IRS collect information about how much is withdrawn and deposited annually from most bank accounts, in order to prevent tax fraud.

The proposal was the subject of widespread misinformation on social media, and Alaska’s attorney general joined 19 other state attorneys general last month in a letter opposing it.

In the latest version of the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill, the idea has been removed entirely.

Dunleavy’s order requires the Alaska attorney general to review any new laws, policies and regulations related to the IRS monitoring of Alaskans’ bank accounts.

Violence against school boards

The fourth section of the order calls on the attorney general to “review and oppose” efforts by the federal government to “monitor and negatively affect the ability of Alaskan parents to exercise their constitutional rights by participating in school board meetings.”

That section appears to rely on a mischaracterization of the federal government’s response to an increasing pattern of violence directed toward school boards and school officials over responses to COVID-19.

The governor’s office referred questions to the Department of Law, which did not respond on the topic.

In late September, the National School Boards Association asked the Biden administration to investigate threats of violence, and the U.S. Department of Justice announced afterward that it would create a partnership among law enforcement to do so.

Neither the association’s letter nor the Justice Department’s letter referenced parents, but conservative lawmakers nationwide have attacked the department, accusing it of interfering with parents.

The fifth section of Dunleavy’s Tuesday order also deals with the topic, saying a state agency may not act in a way that would “unconstitutionally chill free speech or infringe upon other constitutional rights exercised by citizens against or in support of local school district policies.”

Lon Garrison, executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, said he is not aware of threats against school officials and is not aware of any active efforts by the federal government that follow the descriptions in Tuesday’s order.

Constitutional violations

The last section of the order requires state commissioners to notify the attorney general immediately if a federal agency “proposes an action to a state agency that would require a state agency to act in a manner that may violate the Alaska or U.S. Constitution.”

It isn’t clear how this section will be implemented, how it differs from the state’s existing duty to enforce those documents, or whether the section was written because of a particular proposed action.

The governor’s office asked for questions to be sent by email to the Department of Law, and neither agency answered a question about the section on Tuesday.

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