Mask mandate ordinance on deck at Tuesday’s Anchorage Assembly meeting

Members of the Anchorage Assembly meet on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021 at the Loussac Library in...
Members of the Anchorage Assembly meet on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021 at the Loussac Library in Anchorage, Alaska.(Jeremy Kashatok/Alaska's News Source)
Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 4:01 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly is expected to discuss and possibly vote on an ordinance that would require masking indoors and at crowded outdoor gatherings at their regular meeting scheduled for Tuesday night, and extensive input from the public is anticipated.

Assembly members Meg Zaletel and Pete Petersen proposed the ordinance that would create a mask mandate in the Municipality of Anchorage for indoor and outdoor gatherings when social distancing is not a viable option.

As currently written, the ordinance would require masking in indoor public spaces and outside in crowded spaces, regardless of whether people are vaccinated or not. Exemptions are given for those with mental or physical disabilities that would prevent them from wearing a mask, those in police custody, people competing in competitive sports as swimming, diving and wrestling, and for those presenting and performing, such as musicians. Masks would also not be required for children under 2.

The ordinance, which was introduced last week, had been amended to include language that would provide for enforcement, including fines for violations. Any person observing or witnessing a violation of the ordinance could initiate a private enforcement action before an administrative hearing officer. But on Tuesday afternoon, Zaletel told Alaska’s News Source she plans to remove the private enforcement provision from the language that was added to the ordinance.

“It is removed because most residents will follow the law and that will be effective in bringing COVID cases down,” Zaletel said via text. “And more importantly, it is fully expected that the Administration in its role as the executive branch will implement and enforce all validly passed ordinances by Assembly, the Municipality’s legislative branch.”

The ordinance would go into effect as soon as it was approved, and would expire on Dec. 31. It would also cease to be in effect if the municipality dropped below the high alert level for COVID-19 transmission.

“I anticipate this public hearing will last a couple of days. It’s not going to come and go,” said Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant. “We’ll hear lots of testimony and we have been receiving hundreds of emails, almost as many emails as last summer but not as many. They’re coming in remarkably high in support of doing something. Doing nothing is not an acceptable answer and something they’re saying is pass a mask mandate. I’m not sure which way the body will go but I know we’re going to have a long and very loud, robust public conversation about it (Tuesday) night.”

The power to enforce ordinances passed by the assembly lies with Mayor Dave Bronson’s office. The mayor has been clear on his stance, consistently opposing the mandating of any mask policy or vaccine program throughout the municipality and throughout the country, sharing his thoughts during the mayor’s report at the last regular meeting of the assembly. He stated that President Joe Biden’s recent actions related to COVID-19 are unconstitutional going so far to call them, “immoral” and “beyond the authority of the president.”

Bronson has said repeatedly that his administration will not require masking or mandate vaccines within the city.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink and Alaska health officials have continually encouraged the use of masks to be an effective tool in fighting the spread of particulates and preventing wider and potentially exponential spread of the virus.

As mayor, Bronson would have the power to veto this ordinance if it passes. If that happened, the assembly would need an 8-3 majority to override that mayoral veto.

The ordinance will most likely be further discussed, debated and amended before the final vote on whether or not to pass the legislation. Tonight’s assembly meeting starts at 5 p.m. in the Anchorage Assembly Chambers in the Loussac Library.

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