Alaska Legislature

Alaska legislators hear vocal opposition to Dunleavy plan to eliminate boards overseeing midwives, barbers and massage therapists

JUNEAU — State legislators have heard strong opposition to Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s three executive orders that would eliminate boards regulating barbers, midwives and massage therapists, among other professions.

Dunleavy introduced 12 executive orders at the start of the legislative session, which account for almost 10% of all the executive orders issued by Alaska governors since statehood. State departments would take over the regulatory and licensing roles currently conducted by the volunteer boards, which Dunleavy administration officials said would improve efficiency in government.

Members of the affected professions have raised concerns that they will no longer be regulated by their peers; state employees would be too overworked or not knowledgeable enough to regulate their fields; and there has been frustration about a lack of notice that the three boards were on the chopping block.

Dunleavy’s order proposes for the state Department of Commerce to take over regulating direct-entry midwives from the board. Midwives have expressed concerns about the potential health and safety impacts if health care professionals are not directly overseeing the sector.

“We’re talking about mothers and babies,” said Mary Yanagawa, a midwife from Wasilla, last month to the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. “Please help us — the professionals practicing now, as well as future midwives — to thrive and flourish in their businesses.”

Certified direct-entry midwives attend 60-80% of out-of-hospital births, according to the Midwives Association of Alaska. The state reported in 2022 that 6% of births in Alaska were delivered at home by around 40 certified midwives.

Members of the Board of Certified Direct-Entry Midwives in a statement to legislators unanimously expressed “grave concerns” if the sector is not regulated by an autonomous board.


“The use of paid state employees instead of volunteer midwives, professionals, and community members to run our board is not only inefficient but also jeopardizes the expertise of the profession and community connection we bring,” the board’s statement said.

Wasilla Republican Rep. Jesse Sumner said he has heard the most concern about Dunleavy’s executive orders from midwives, with many midwives working out of the Mat-Su Valley. The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee received dozens of emails in opposition to the governor’s proposed changes to the sector.

Sara Chambers, boards and regulations adviser at the Department of Commerce, told lawmakers last month that the midwives board has had challenges. With only 54 licensees and permit holders, board members have been unable to deal with some investigations and applications because of conflicts of interest, which had led to delays, she said.

Chambers said in general that the occupational licensing boards can be more than twice as slow as government departments in writing and approving regulations. She told lawmakers that if the boards are eliminated, state agencies would still want feedback from stakeholders and licensees on proposed regulations.

Members of professions set to be impacted by the executive orders have blamed understaffing at state agencies as a central reason for regulatory and licensing delays. The Legislature’s auditor said in reviews of two of the boards targeted for elimination that turnover and vacancies have been a problem at the state’s licensing division.

Volker B. Hruby, a former president of the Alaska Chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association and a licensed massage therapist, said he was not convinced that the Department of Commerce could effectively replace the board and regulate the industry.

“Unless the state staff end up going to massage school and work for years to gain experience in the field, there is no amount of additional training that will give them this knowledge,” he said to legislators.

Around 1,100 licensed massage therapists are currently working in Alaska. Opponents of the governor’s executive order said the board has worked with law enforcement to curb human trafficking and prostitution at massage parlors, which could be hindered by the board’s elimination.

Dunleavy’s 12 executive orders automatically become law 60 days from when they were introduced, unless the Legislature specifically passes a resolution to reject them with at least 31 of 60 legislators in a joint session of the House and Senate. The deadline for the Legislature to act is March 16.

The Senate started the process of potentially rejecting the executive orders by introducing 12 disapproval resolutions on Monday. The bipartisan Senate majority wants to hold an up-or-down vote on each of the executive orders, but the Republican-led House majority has not decided yet if a joint session will take place.

Sen. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat, said that many of Dunleavy’s executive orders should have been proposed through legislation. Lawmakers can reject executive orders, but they can’t amend them.

At a constituent meeting in Fairbanks over the weekend, Kawasaki said he heard concerns from a midwife and massage therapists, but particularly from barbers and hairdressers.

“They want to just know what happens next for that industry, and it’s a big industry,” he said.

The Legislature’s auditor reported in 2018 that there were 5,534 active licensees overseen by the board that regulates barbers and hairdressers, along with tattooists, body piercers, estheticians, and manicurists.

Wendy Palin, a board member, said it is imperative that the cosmetics industry have strong regulatory oversight with constantly evolving techniques and technologies. With 37 years of experience in corrective skin care and laser treatments, Palin said that there can be “incredible transformations and devastating outcomes” caused by the practitioner.

“From debilitating scarring to lifelong disfigurements, the consequences of improper procedures can be very severe,” she said.

The Legislature’s auditor has reviewed all three boards since 2018 and recommended that all three should continue in their licensing and regulatory roles. Yanagawa said the auditor had suggested some changes to the midwives board, which were included in a measure currently before the Legislature.

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Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at