Anchorage Assembly overrides mayor’s veto of emergency mask ordinance

Mask requirement goes into effect immediately and lasts no more than 60 days
Regular Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021 in the Loussac Library in...
Regular Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021 in the Loussac Library in Anchorage, Alaska.(Jeremy Kashatok / Alaska's News Source)
Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 5:12 PM AKDT|Updated: Oct. 14, 2021 at 9:22 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In a special meeting Thursday, members of the Anchorage Assembly voted to override Mayor Dave Bronson’s veto of the emergency ordinance requiring mask wearing that was passed earlier this week.

The assembly had passed the emergency ordinance — introduced by member Pete Petersen — during their regular meeting Tuesday night. Emergency ordinances do not require a public hearing. After a procedural error forced the assembly to vote a second time, it passed 9-1 with assembly member Crystal Kennedy voting against it and Jamie Allard not participating in the second vote.

Bronson, who has been publicly, staunchly opposed to the public health measure, vetoed it the next day. In a special meeting Thursday, the assembly voted 9-2 to override his veto. Allard and Kennedy cast the two opposing votes. To override any mayoral veto, the assembly needs a supermajority of eight votes.

The emergency ordinance will require people to wear a mask when they are in public spaces in Anchorage, and will be in effect for no more than 60 days. However, it could fall out of effect before then if two of the city’s three hospitals are no longer operating under crisis care standards for 14 consecutive days, or if the city’s virus transmission falls back below the high or substantial level for 14 days.

Shortly after the assembly voted to override his veto, Bronson released a statement calling the action “deceitful and wrong.”

“The nine members who voted for this mask mandate ignored the public process, shut down public testimony, shut out the people, and decided that they (not you or your healthcare provider) will make decisions about your personal health,” Bronson wrote.

In an interview after Thursday’s meeting, Bronson said he expected his veto would be overridden.

“This is our process and the way we do government,” he said. “I’m perfectly fine with it. I don’t agree with the override of course, but I think the citizens need to understand that, as messy as this has been the last few weeks, this is the best way to do politics that I’ve seen frankly anywhere in the world.”

Bronson said the noise level at meetings “is a bit of a problem,” referencing interruptions and outbursts from crowds at recent public hearings.

“But have you ever watched the House of Commons do business?” he said. “I think everyone needs to calm down a little bit. ... And we’ve got more steps to go in all this. There’s other ... business that we’ve got to get to, but this is just how we do our political business in this country, and it’s a good way of doing it.”

When Anchorage had a mask requirement and other emergency orders in place last summer to reduce the spread of COVID-19, a state Section of Epidemiology report found that cases did in fact go down following their implementation.

“The (municipality’s) mask order (EO 13) in late June was followed by a decrease in the growth rate of the COVID-19 epidemic in Anchorage,” the report found. “The Emergency Orders that limited and then closed public venues in late July and early August were followed by an even greater drop in transmission and the epidemic in Anchorage began to decline.”

In a statement Thursday evening, Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance explained why members of the assembly used an emergency ordinance to achieve the mask requirement. In the past, similar mandates had been made through emergency orders by the mayor, when the city was under an emergency declaration.

“Due to the severity of the crisis in our health care system, the Assembly decided to act through an Emergency Ordinance to give this issue the urgency and weight required of the circumstances, and we stand by this decision,” LaFrance in the statement. “The Assembly has heard from over 4,000 people over the course of six public meetings. The Emergency Ordinance that was passed reflects the feedback received at those meetings and has widespread community support.”

While COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations had seemed to trend downward recently, the number of people infected and in the hospital still remains high. Alaska still has the highest rate of new cases per capita in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The emergency ordinance is similar to the original measure the assembly had been considering and holding public hearings for, but the new version includes several updates made after the assembly received feedback from the community. It does not include, for example, a controversial section from the original ordinance that would have allowed residents to take private enforcement action against others not in compliance with the requirement.

The measure also includes a number of exemptions. Any child under 5 is not required to wear a mask, or is anyone participating in an athletic activity. Private gyms and fitness centers will be able to require masks indoors if they choose to, the ordinance notes.

Religious assemblies are also exempt from the mask requirement, as is Bronson and his executive team. Anyone with a physical or mental disability that prevents them from being able to wear a mask is also exempt.

The power to enforce ordinances passed by the assembly lies with the mayor’s office, the executive branch of the city’s government.

Before casting her no vote, Kennedy urged assembly members not to override the mayor’s veto, and said it’s becoming “abundantly clear” over that the issue of whether to wear masks has become divisive in the community.

“The only thing that this particular override does is fuel that fire,” she said.

Petersen, who introduced both the original ordinance, along with Meg Zaletel, and the emergency ordinance Tuesday night, said his goal in bringing it forward was to preserve the health of Anchorage residents.

“My motivation for bringing this emergency ordinance forward had nothing to do with a power grab or politics in any way,” he said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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