The Alaska State Legislature after hours of debate passed a bill late Wednesday night retroactively extending the state’s disaster declaration over the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate spent several hours debating 41 amendments to the bill, some of which were adopted and needed to be approved by the House of Representatives which finally passed the bill after 8 p.m.
The bill’s supporters say it gives Gov. Mike Dunleavy the tools he needs to effectively respond to the pandemic, while detractors say it’s unnecessary and sends the wrong message.
Senators began their floor session at 11 a.m. Wednesday and didn’t adjourn until just after 6:30 p.m., as lawmakers from both parties submitted dozens of amendments. Some were technical changes, and others would’ve fundamentally changed the bill. Some of those amendments were adopted on the floor, such as a bill extending liability coverage to certain license holders for the duration of the pandemic, but the majority of amendments failed to pass.
Republican senators who opposed the bill offered several amendments, some of which would have removed the disaster declaration language from the legislation. Dunleavy has said he believes a disaster declaration to be unnecessary at this point in the state’s management of the pandemic, spokesperson Jeff Turner said in an email Wednesday. Dunleavy has asked lawmakers for a narrowly tailored piece of legislation specifically designed to grant limited emergency powers to the governor.
The bill was amended on the floor, and the governor will review the bill Thursday, Turner said in a follow-up email.
Provisions within the legislation would allow the state to access $8 million a month in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps, and allows health care providers in the state to continuing providing telehealth services, a news release from the Senate Republican Majority said.
“This bill is about delivering critical assistance to Alaskans who’ve suffered from the economic devastation of the past year,” said Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna. “The message of (the bill) is clear: We must do all we can to protect our most vulnerable Alaskans while also transitioning back to life as it was before the pandemic. Schools must be open, businesses should be able to operate freely, and the restrictions on the lives of everyday Alaskans must end.”
The bill passed the Senate 14-6, with only Republicans voting against the bill. Sen. Donny Olson, D-Bethel, originally voted no on the bill but changed his vote during reconsideration of the bill.
Lawmakers in the House were on standby all of Wednesday, waiting for senators to finish their work on the bill. House members returned to the floor just after 8 p.m. Wednesday and approved the senate’s changes shortly after. House members voted 25-15 to concur with the senate’s changes, with Republican Reps. Steve Thompson, Fairbanks; Bart Lebon, Fairbanks; Sara Rasmussen, Anchorage; and Mike Cronk, Tok, voting with the bipartisan Majority Coalition.
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