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Alaska Legislature plans PFD hearings as 2 senators test positive for COVID-19

The exterior of the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska.
The exterior of the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska.(KTUU)
Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 8:01 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Over one week into the fourth special session, the Alaska Legislature has made little progress to resolve the long-term future of the Permanent Fund dividend.

The Senate was not able to bring 11 senators to Juneau on Tuesday to hold a regular floor session. Two senators had tested positive for COVID-19 and a third was feeling unwell. All three are outside the state Capitol.

Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold tested positive for the virus three days ago, but she hasn’t been in Juneau for the fourth special session.

“I am resting and improving quickly,” she said before describing a range of treatments she says she is taking, including ivermectin. Ivermectin is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating COVID-19, and the FDA has warned against using it for that purpose.

Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, also said he tested positive on Friday after being in Juneau last week, but described having relatively mild symptoms. He is vaccinated against COVID-19 and stressed that he doesn’t want to “politicize” the virus.

“People should talk to their doctor for what treatment is best for them,” Wilson said.

Fairbanks Republican Sen. Click Bishop has been under the weather and is also away from the state Capitol.

“I tested negative for COVID but had a cold and was running at half throttle,” he said by text.

Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, hopes to hold a floor session soon to pass a resolution to hold committee hearings on the road system. He also wants to create a special Senate committee to continue the work of a bipartisan legislative working group that proposed a fiscal plan framework.

“I think they can take some of the bills that have been lying around, perhaps, and reinvigorate them, work together to get the votes that would be needed,” Micciche said about that committee.

The working group called for the Legislature to work toward a 50-50 split from a now-annual draw from the Permanent Fund. That would see 50% go toward the dividend and 50% for state services. But, that would be contingent on a fiscal plan with new revenues, a spending cap and planned budget reductions.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has supported the 50-50 dividend, but has been criticized for not supporting new revenues to pay for it and the budget. His office stressed the Permanent Fund has grown to above $82 billion, meaning that a larger dividend should be paid for struggling Alaskans.

“Lawmakers have the legislative tools and information they need to act on all these proposals during this special session,” said Jeff Turner, a spokesperson for the governor’s office.

Legislative leaders have said the governor’s 50-50 constitutional package does not have support from two-thirds of the Legislature to pass and go before voters. Legislators introduced bills with different splits for the dividend and state services on Tuesday.

The House of Representatives will begin holding fiscal plan committee hearings in Anchorage, starting on Wednesday. Across the aisle, legislators agree that this special session will not end the dividend debates, but it could help make progress for the regular session that starts in January.

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