COVID-19 prompts House Majority to propose changes to the legislative process
Only legislators, their staffers, legislative employees, and credentialed media are allowing inside of the capitol building in Juneau.
The changes come alongside public health concerns related to COVID-19, the new strain of coronavirus that is now spreading rapidly here in the United States.
Leaders from the House Majority are trying to take what they call another precautionary measure as a response to the virus - a change to the legislatures uniform rule #23, which would allow committees to meet within one day of public notice.
"We all know it's coming, it's just a matter of time before there will be multiple reported cases, if not many reported cases, throughout the state... possibly here in Juneau," House Speaker Bryce Edgmon told members of the press on Monday.
Supporters say that the change would allow the legislature to make faster progress as it deals with the state's budget woes. Opponents believe that if the rule is changed, personal legislation will take priority over the budget.
"If we were going to responsibly respond to the situation and set an example, then we would not be here, all crammed into this room," Rep. David Eastman said during Monday's floor session, "This, however -- is going to delay our ever getting out of Juneau and I will oppose it."
If the proposed measure does eventually clear the house, it will face final approval from the senate. See the rule as currently written
After continued discussion of that measure was postponed till Tuesday, Edgmon released a letter addressed to Governor Mike Dunleavy, requesting a meeting to discuss public health concerns and the economic impacts being felt in Alaska. A portion of the letter reads as follows:
"The State of Alaska is rightly focusing on protecting the health of Alaskans by preventing the spread of the new coronavirus. However, we must not lose sight of the tremendous negative economic impacts of the many necessary public health actions made at the local, state and federal level. Individuals and businesses are suffering, and the effects will compound every day that our economy remains at a standstill."
Edgmon's letter also suggests several options for assisting Alaskan's during this time, including:
- state-backed bridge loans to assist local businesses
- preparations for temporary homeless shelters and quarantine sites
- elimination of wait time for unemployment benefits
- classification of quarantined individuals as unemployed
- carrying out COVID-19 testing, without out-of-pocket expenses
- Restricting access to all state buildings, while limiting large gatherings, statewide