Gov. Mike Dunleavy, seen here giving his 2020 State of the State address before a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, announced this year's address would be virtual due to health concerns related to the pandemic. (Peter Segall/ Juneau Empire File)

Dunleavy to give virtual State of the State address

Lawmakers praised the decision

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Mike Dunleavy will deliver the annual State of the State speech virtually this year.

It is the first time a governor has given the annual speech by video. Historically the House of Representatives invites the governor to give his address, but lawmakers in that body have so far failed to elect a leadership this session.

The address will be broadcast on public access television and online Thursday, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m., the governor’s office said in a statement, and will be given from the governor’s Anchorage office.

The Alaska House Coalition, made up of members of the previous House Majority Caucus, released a joint statement thanking the governor for taking health concerns under consideration.

[House deadlock remains, lawmakers to meet Wednesday]

“I thank Governor Dunleavy for the common-sense decision to deliver a virtual address rather than convening a joint floor session that would have forced 60 lawmakers to sit shoulder-to-shoulder for hours,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, in the statement. “This is not a partisan issue. We have many legislators and staff over the age of 65 and vulnerable to COVID-19.”

Coronavirus numbers have been going down in Alaska but daily case counts remain high.

However Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said while he supported the governor’s decision he wasn’t happy about it.

“We have the strictest testing protocol of any public or private entity in the state,” he told the Empire in a phone interview Tuesday, saying that with the current mitigation measures in place and adequate accommodations, all 60 members of the Legislature could safely meet for a joint session.

Under the current health guidelines, anyone entering the state Capitol must have received a negative COVID-19 test within the past three days and is screened upon entering the building. Plastic partitions were inserted between lawmakers’ seats in the House and Senate chambers, where masks must be worn at all times.

But while health concerns can be mitigated, the fact the House had failed to organize was a more significant factor, Micciche said.

“Until there’s a speaker pro tem we can’t even receive an invitation,” he said, referring to the temporary speaker pro tempore position.

He empathized with the difficulty the House was having in organizing, Micciche said, but added the body should elect at least a temporary leader soon.

Micciche said he wanted to conduct the Senate with as much normalcy as possible, given the pandemic. He hoped the governor’s virtual speech would be the last major legislative event to be up-ended by COVID-19.

“We can have a joint session while still being socially distant,” he said.

How to watch

The speech will be broadcast live on Gavel Alaska and the governor’s Facebook page.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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