Alaska Legislature

Dunleavy again turns down COVID-19 emergency requested by House Democrats and independents

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has turned down another request for a statewide declaration of emergency as Alaska deals with a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases.

On Tuesday, 13 members of the state House of Representatives asked Dunleavy for an emergency declaration, plus a mask mandate and temporary limits on gatherings.

“You have access to the only tools that will turn the tide, and Alaskans need you to use them,” said the legislators’ letter.

Replying a day later, Dunleavy said such a move is unnecessary.

“Exercising the Disaster Act does not give our team any more health tools than what they need and are using right now,” the governor said in a reply letter dated Wednesday. “Masking is, as I have stated, a local issue best left to local leaders.”

Alaska’s COVID-19 case rate is the highest in the nation. The number of people hospitalized in Alaska because of COVID-19 is declining, and the number of newly reported cases is also declining.

Dunleavy noted that trend, saying that Alaska is “starting to see a leveling off this week.”

He also said that the state has “ample supplies of therapeutics and vaccines” and health care workers are arriving in the state to help hospitals.

The governor ended a COVID-19 disaster declaration in April, and during this latest surge, Democrats previously asked the governor for a new disaster declaration. The governor declined and proposed new legislation instead. That legislation failed to pass.

In place of a governor-declared disaster declaration, Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum has issued a lower-level disaster declaration under powers granted by the Legislature this spring.

Rep. Liz Snyder, D-Anchorage and co-chair of the House Health and Social Services Committee, was one of the legislators behind the latest request to the governor.

She said there are some great things happening with the state’s response to COVID-19, but “it’s clearly not enough.”

She said the governor’s decision to leave mask rules up to local governments is inadequate because some cities may not have the power to mandate masks or may be unwilling to do so.

“Our largest city in Alaska is being led by a mayor that will not implement these simple, temporary measures to get these case counts down,” she said, referring to Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson.

She said she hasn’t asked her colleagues whether they would support asking the governor to add COVID-19 legislation to the agenda of a special legislative session that started Monday.

Some Republican members of the state House have informally asked the governor to do so.

In a speech earlier this week, Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, asked the governor to add a “patients’ bill of rights” to the special session agenda. That legislation could bar companies and governments from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, issued a written request for a COVID-19-related special session earlier this fall.

Other Republican-led states have passed laws or proclamations barring vaccination requirements and mask mandates. Dunleavy has said he will not require vaccinations at the state level but has stayed away from decisions by local governments and businesses.

Before the start of the special session, Dunleavy said he had no plans to add non-budgetary topics to the special session because he wants lawmakers to focus on the Permanent Fund dividend and a state fiscal plan.

Carpenter said on Thursday that he hasn’t received a response from the governor’s office. Jeff Turner, a spokesman for the governor, said he hasn’t seen a formal written request.