Alaska Legislature

As Alaska’s legislative session begins, masks stay required at the state Capitol

JUNEAU — Face masks are required in the Alaska State Capitol as state lawmakers begin the 2022 legislative session.

A vote to make masking optional failed in a 3-10 vote of the Legislative Council on Monday. The council, which includes members of the state House and Senate, controls the operations of the Capitol complex in Juneau.

The opening day of the 121-day regular session is Tuesday.

The council has required masks in the Capitol complex since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It voted to remove the masking requirement in May 2021 but reinstated the requirement in October.

Most of Alaska’s other public buildings, which operate under rules set by the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, do not have a mask requirement.

Members of the public were prohibited from visiting the Capitol in the regular 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions, but the building reopened in June and remains open for visitors.

State lawmakers and legislative staff must be tested for COVID-19 every four days, but there is no testing requirement for members of the public. A proposal to make testing optional failed 4-9 in the council on Monday.

In keeping the masking and testing policies, lawmakers cited the threat posed by the fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19. Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said even mild cases could keep legislators away from debates and votes, disrupting work in the Capitol.

Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, was the lawmaker who proposed amending the Capitol’s COVID-19 policies to make masking and testing optional. Reinbold has been a reliable critic of COVID-19 masking and vaccination requirements and was banned by Alaska Airlines over the issue.

Voting in support of Reinbold’s proposals were Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna and Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla. Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, joined them in voting against the mandatory testing policy.

Voting to keep both mandates were Reps. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage; Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham; Neal Foster, D-Nome; Sara Hannan, D-Juneau; Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak; and Sens. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks; Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel; Bert Stedman, R-Sitka; and Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak. Tuck voted to keep the mandatory masking policy.

During debates over the COVID-19 protocols for lawmakers, some members of the council objected to the inconvenience caused by mandatory testing and masking.

“Sometimes you just have to put your big-boy pants on and deal with these issues,” Stedman said.


James Brooks

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

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