In Juneau, COVID-19 looms as lawmakers cross halfway point in session

The Alaska House is halfway through its regular 90-day session, and this week the Capitol...
The Alaska House is halfway through its regular 90-day session, and this week the Capitol Building tightened its COVID-19 protocols after an outbreak within the legislative bubble.(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 5, 2021 at 7:47 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On Friday, Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, provided several updates on the work that lies ahead for the senate. They also addressed recent concerns prompted by a COVID-19 outbreak within the Capitol building. COVID-19 protocols were put into place before the start of session, but will be heightened moving forward.

This week it was announced that the Southeast Alaska Health Regional Health Consortium has made enough vaccines available for all lawmakers, aides, and other personal working in the Capitol building to be inoculated.

Micciche said the Senate has passed a resolution onto the House, for the second consecutive year, which would allow for remote voting in the event that virus transmissions increase within the legislative bubble. The Senate president is concerned that without this legislation, if key legislators were to contract the virus and miss floor sessions, their constituents would be disenfranchised.

“If we have a significantly larger outbreak, and we have ten members out and twenty staff members [...] This building could come to a standstill,” Micciche said. “So, we are doing our best to keep people safe.”

Across the building, House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said the caucus is supportive of that resolution, which is currently sitting in Rules Committee, but needs more votes to if it is going to be passed through the House.

According to Stutes, some committees have been meeting up to three times a day and she is optimistic that the body will make up for lost time, after starting taking several weeks to formally organize.

“We just had a joint meeting between leadership in the Senate and the House,” Stutes told Alaska’s News Source on Monday. ”We are moving towards joint meeting to look at the governor’s appointees and several critical pieces of legislation that take action from both bodies.”

The legislature would have to find space to bring 60 lawmakers together in order to conduct joint talks over key issues like the budget or the governor’s appointees; however, Stutes said Friday that the Legislative Affairs Agency has identified the Terry Miller Building as a potential location for upcoming joint sessions — with enough room for 70 people to gather at a safe distance.

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