Alaska Legislature

Alaska Capitol’s new COVID-19 policy requires testing but isn’t enforced

alaska state capitol, capitol, juneau, state capitol

JUNEAU — A new COVID-19 testing policy in place at the Alaska Capitol requires lawmakers and staff to be tested once every four days, but there is no enforcement and no other visitors are required to undergo testing.

Rules for wearing masks were not changed. Masks are mandatory in the building, except in legislative offices, where the officeholder may set the rules.

The Capitol had a more stringent testing policy in place from 2020 through June 2021. The now-defunct policy limited public access and required rapid testing twice per week.

The joint House-Senate Legislative Council voted 10-3 to reimpose a testing requirement on Tuesday, the first full day of a new special session.

Alaska has the highest recent COVID-19 per-capita case rates in the country, with 871 new cases and three deaths reported Tuesday, as well as continued high numbers of patients hospitalized with the virus.

Speaker of the House Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, asked Gov. Mike Dunleavy to cancel the special session last week, citing COVID-19 concerns. The governor said no. Stutes was among the votes in favor of the new policy.

Voting against the new rules were House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, and Sens. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, and Mike Shower, R-Wasilla.

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Lawmakers are planning to meet infrequently at the Capitol during the special session, and council chair Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, said the new rules may be tightened if those plans change.

“Option 1 is certainly not the tightest mitigation measure we could take ... but I feel it is a step in the right direction,” Hannan said, referring to the plan approved by lawmakers.

Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said it seems “illogical” to only require testing by legislators and staff, and not all visitors.

Hannan said that’s because rapid testing isn’t possible. Lawmakers chose to provide testing under an already-existing state contract, and that contract doesn’t call for rapid tests.

Some legislators opposed mandatory testing, and in the face of that resistance, the council decided to operate the testing program under “the honor system,” with no checks to see whether it is being followed.

“The people that are going to test are going to test, and the ones that aren’t, aren’t,” said Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna. “And it eliminates the huge amount of effort it takes to try to force compliance on something that people either believe in or they don’t.”

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.