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Alaska Legislature votes to keep mandatory COVID-19 testing, masking in the Capitol

Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 1:42 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - On the eve of the next regular session, the Alaska Legislature has voted to keep mandatory masking rules in place in the state Capitol along with regular COVID-19 testing for legislators and their staff.

The Legislative Council, a committee that represents the Legislature as a whole, voted to keep the existing COVID-19 policies in place through the session unless they’re changed by the same committee.

Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold tried to make masking optional, but legislators on the council rejected that proposal on a 3-10 vote. Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said it “seems like the wrong time to do this,” referring to making masks optional and the high case rates hitting Alaska.

If cases drop, masking and testing rules could be amended, he added.

Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, tried to make regular COVID-19 testing optional, too, saying it would save “some pretty substantial funding,” but the motion failed along similar lines.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, joined eight other legislators opposed to moving to optional testing.

“I think it’s a little too early to relax our standards,” he said.

Legislative Council voted 11-2 to extend a $1 million contract with Beacon Occupational Health and Safety Services to conduct COVID-19 testing through the end of June if that is required. The Anchorage-based company ran COVID-19 testing in the Capitol last year when the building was closed to the public until June.

Legislature to join scholarship lawsuit

The Legislative Council also voted on Monday to file an amicus brief in a lawsuit filed by four Alaska college students, challenging the decision by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration to drain the state’s college scholarship fund.

Stevens said the fund was intended to provide certainty to thousands of scholarship recipients and that turning that funding into an annual appropriation “could put them in real jeopardy.”

After the meeting, Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Anchorage, said the brief would be filed in support of the lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of the Dunleavy administration’s interpretation of which funds are required to be emptied if an annual procedural vote fails to pass through the Legislature.

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