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After-work drinks in Alaska Capitol sparks reminder to legislators about COVID-19 policies

The Terry Miller building which sits behind the Alaska Capitol building itself.
The Terry Miller building which sits behind the Alaska Capitol building itself.(KTUU)
Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 5:02 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - A letter has been sent to all 60 members of the Alaska Legislature reminding them of the Alaska Capitol’s COVID-19 rules, after three legislators had after-work drinks in a Capitol building and invited in two members of the public.

Jessica Geary, the head of the Legislative Affairs Agency, sent the letter to legislators on Friday, reminding them that the Capitol is closed to the public to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Reps. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, and Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, all went to the gymnasium in the Terry Miller building last Wednesday evening. The building sits behind the Alaska Capitol building itself, but is considered part of the Capitol complex.

Accompanying the three legislators were several legislative staff. A member of the governor’s office and Jeff Landfield, editor of the Alaska Landmine blog, also attended the after-work drinks along with two members of the public who didn’t go through the Legislature’s strict COVID-19 screening.

Corey Young, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, would not confirm who from the office attended the after-work drinks, saying only that it was “a personnel matter.”

Further questions to Geary about the event, and who attended it, were directed to Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, the House speaker, who did not make herself available for comment before deadline.

Rasmussen apologized on the House floor on Wednesday, saying the event was a lapse in judgement, particularly in inviting in members of the public. She said that there were some “egregious rumors” circulating around the Capitol.

“We got together, we played ping pong, had some board games and shot some hoops, and there’s really nothing more to it than that,” Rasmussen said on the House floor, before apologizing again for the group’s mistake.

Merrick apologized on the House floor, too.

“Last week we made a poor choice and pledged not to repeat that mistake,” she said. “We ask forgiveness from this body and Alaskans.”

Alaska’s News Source reached out to Fields for comment, but he did not want to speak on the record.

Suzanne Downing, the editor of right-leaning blog Must Read Alaska, broke the story on Wednesday and immediately started selling merchandise depicting the event.

Several attendees say her account was inaccurate and overblown. Geary said that there are no Legislative Council policies about consuming alcohol in the state Capitol.

There was said to be security footage of the event, but Geary said that “any surveillance footage is confidential and is not available for viewing” per the Legislative Council’s records policy.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, said any surveillance footage should be made public. He also implied that it was hypocritical for legislators to close the Capitol during the pandemic while inviting in several members of the public for a social event.

“The public deserves to know what’s happening down here, they deserve access to the Capitol building,” he said.

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