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COVID-19 outbreak delays work for Alaska House

The Alaska House speaker canceled a regular floor session on Wednesday after “a large portion” of the House of Representatives was exposed to COVID-19.
Published: Feb. 2, 2022 at 4:19 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The Alaska House speaker canceled a regular floor session on Wednesday after “a large portion” of the House of Representatives was exposed to COVID-19.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said a legislator tested positive for the virus on Tuesday and contact tracing was ongoing to see how many people they interacted with. It was determined around half of the 40 House members are considered close contacts of the positive case.

The House was scheduled to debate whether to remove Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, from his committee assignments over his ties to the Oath Keepers. A legislative committee voted to do that on Monday, but it needed approval from a majority of House members.

Eastman said the process to oust him from his committee assignments lacked transparency and that he wanted to keep those positions.

“As important as that is, I won’t compromise my integrity to stay on those committees,” he added.

A technical floor session was held on Wednesday with a handful of legislators gathering briefly in the House chamber. Voting or passing legislation is not allowed during technical floor sessions, which are typically held to fulfill a requirement that the House and Senate convene every three days during a legislative session.

Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said the House Republican minority caucus was ready to vote on Eastman’s committee assignments on Wednesday and that her members could vote as they like. The next House floor session has been scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m.

Remote voting

The Senate passed a resolution last year to allow for remote voting on bills if a bad COVID-19 outbreak hit the Capitol. Two-thirds of the House would need to support the same resolution to allow that to happen, which would require six members of the Republican minority voting for that alongside all 21 members of the majority.

Tilton said there are not the votes to do that. She was worried that there could be technological issues in having legislators voting by video.

“I just think it is a slippery slope that we’d be heading down,” she said.

Edgmon was similarly skeptical. He agreed that there aren’t the votes to allow remote voting and he also questioned if the technology is reliable and secure enough.

“I’m not sure if we’re there yet, and we’ve never done it before,” Edgmon said.

Other states have used remote voting during the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to keep legislatures functioning. Edgmon said if everyone follows mitigation policies, work in the Alaska Capitol should continue, but with the possibility that more people test positive in the future.

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