JUNEAU — Alaska state Sens. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, and David Wilson, R-Wasilla, have tested positive for COVID-19 and are quarantining at home, away from the state Capitol.
Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, said he is feeling ill but has tested negative for COVID-19. He believes he has a cold or the flu.
The Alaska Legislature began a special session Oct. 4, with lawmakers called by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to create a new annual formula for the Permanent Fund dividend.
Speaking Tuesday evening, Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said senators’ absence — whether for illness or for previously scheduled travel — has contributed to the Senate’s inability to advance negotiations. He did not name the senators who tested positive; they later confirmed their status.
In the state House, lawmakers are scheduled to hold a series of meetings on formulas proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and members of the House, but no meetings have taken place in the Senate, and the special session is almost one-third of the way through its 30-day limit.
Legislators in both the House and Senate say agreement on any one option is unlikely during the ongoing special session, but talks now could pave the way for an agreement during next year’s regular session.
Reached by text message, Reinbold said she is resting and improving quickly using a variety of products, including vitamins, a Vicks steamer and the antiparasitic medication ivermectin. Ivermectin is not authorized for prevention or treatment of COVID-19 — federal health agencies and the drug’s manufacturer have warned against its use for such purposes, especially as many people have turned to formulations designed for animals, not humans — but it has gained traction on social media among vaccine skeptics and among conservative public figures.
The Eagle River senator has opposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates by sponsoring legislation to prohibit businesses and local governments from requiring vaccinations. She has also been a consistent critic of mask requirements.
She unsuccessfully fought the Capitol’s mask mandate and was banned by Alaska Airlines for her refusal to comply with that company’s mask policy. More recently, she appeared at an Anchorage Assembly meeting where she opposed a proposed citywide mask ordinance. At least two top city officials who attended that meeting, and other Assembly meetings where most of the people in attendance weren’t wearing masks, have since tested positive for COVID-19.
In Fairbanks, Bishop said he’s feeling somewhat under the weather but has tested negative for COVID-19 once and may test again, just to be safe. In either case, he’s staying away from the Capitol for the time being.
At home in Wasilla, Wilson said he is feeling ill with minor symptoms but doesn’t have a fever.
He said he doesn’t believe COVID-19 is preventing the Senate from making progress on the special session’s agenda. Seventeen of the Senate’s 20 members are healthy and well, and given that count, he said he believes policy differences, not procedural hurdles, are what matter.
Roughly two-thirds of Alaska’s state budget, including the dividend, is paid for by an annual transfer from the $82 billion Alaska Permanent Fund. On Tuesday, members of the House introduced several formula proposals that call for divvying up that transfer and setting aside a proportion specifically for the dividend.
Earlier this year, Dunleavy proposed splitting the transfer 50-50, with half going to the dividend and half going to the state budget. At current levels of spending and taxation, that would create a significant deficit, which the governor has proposed to fill with extra spending from the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Dunleavy’s idea doesn’t have majority support in the state House or Senate, and Tuesday’s proposals in the House included a 75-25 split, a 65-35 split, and a 50-50 split with different conditions from those proposed by Dunleavy.
In the Senate, no hearings have been scheduled, but Micciche said he is attempting to create a special committee to handle dividend-related legislation.
The committee would include members of different Senate blocs in an attempt to break the deadlock within the Senate.