Rep. Chris Kurka, R-Wasilla, leaves the chambers of the Alaska House of Representatives on Friday, March 19, 2021, after an hour of delays concerning the wording on his mask. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Chris Kurka, R-Wasilla, leaves the chambers of the Alaska House of Representatives on Friday, March 19, 2021, after an hour of delays concerning the wording on his mask. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Mask rules standoff derails House floor session

Rescheduled for Saturday.

The Alaska House of Representatives’ Friday floor session was derailed when a lawmaker refused to remove a face mask bearing the phrase “government mandated muzzle.”

Rep. Chris Kurka, R-Wasilla, who had previously expressed skepticism of the House masking policy, refused to remove the mask Friday morning, leading to a prolonged delay, an abrupt end to the session and a scheduled Saturday session.

Kurka’s mask violated the House rules for wearing professional business attire on the floor of the chamber, according to House Majority Coalition spokesperson Joe Plesha. When House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, asked Kurka to replace his mask with one conforming to rules, he refused.

Masked House Republicans meet in the hallway of the Alaska State Capitol on Friday, March 19, 2021, to discuss Rep. Chris Kurka’s refusal to remove a controversial mask. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Masked House Republicans meet in the hallway of the Alaska State Capitol on Friday, March 19, 2021, to discuss Rep. Chris Kurka’s refusal to remove a controversial mask. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Kurka’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment, but Plesha said a message was sent to Minority Leader Cathy Tilton’s, R-Wasilla, office on Wednesday saying Kurka’s mask would not be acceptable on the floor. Tilton’s office did not return a request to confirm the message was received.

When Kurka arrived wearing the mask Friday, he was offered an alternative face covering but declined, Plesha said.

[New COVID-19 cases at the Capitol]

The House floor session was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday, and for the first time in the already long-delayed chamber, lawmakers were set to hear and potentially vote on a bill. The House session didn’t actually start until just after 11:30 a.m., and lasted just long enough for lawmakers to adjourn until Saturday at 9 a.m. The entirety of the on-the-record portion of the session lasted less than a minute, while lawmakers were gathered in the chamber for just over an hour.

After about 45 minutes, members of the Republican minority caucus retreated into the hallway to discuss the matter. Shortly after their return, the House adjourned.

Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, speaks to Rep. Chris Kurka, R-Wasilla, who’s behind Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, at left, regarding the wording on his face mask on Friday, March 19, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, speaks to Rep. Chris Kurka, R-Wasilla, who’s behind Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, at left, regarding the wording on his face mask on Friday, March 19, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

On Monday, Kurka delivered a speech on the floor questioning the science behind wearing face masks and said punishments for mask-policy violations were politically motivated. Following that speech he removed his own mask and left the floor rather than replace his mask.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a mask is shown to limit the spread of respiratory particles like the kind that can carry the coronavirus. According to the CDC, the increased use of masking during the COVID-19 pandemic has provided additional data regarding masking’s effectiveness at controlling the spread of respiratory particulate.

In a statement, Stutes said lawmakers have a responsibility to keep people safe, even if the mitigation rules are inconvenient.

“A member of the House of Representatives today was disruptive and disrespectful of our colleagues’ time and refused to follow masking rules, delaying the people’s work as a political stunt,” Stutes said. “The situation is unfortunate, but we’ll reconvene Saturday and get the job done.”

Lawmakers and staff at the Capitol have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past causing meetings to be canceled. Currently, over a dozen legislative staff are in quarantine after having tested positive or been in close contact with someone who tested positive. One Senate staff member was recently moved out of Bartlett Regional Hospital’s critical care unit where he was being treated for COVID-19.

Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, faced reprimand in the Senate last week for not complying with that body’s rules. Reinbold has since altered her face covering to be in compliance with the rules.

House Minority Whip Rep. Laddie Shaw, R-Anchorage, speaks to Rep. Chris Kurka, R-Wasilla on Friday, March 19, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

House Minority Whip Rep. Laddie Shaw, R-Anchorage, speaks to Rep. Chris Kurka, R-Wasilla on Friday, March 19, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

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

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson (left) answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies.

(Getty Images)
Alaska Republicans head to the polls Tuesday with Trump, Haley and Ramaswamy on the ballot

On Super Tuesday, March 5, Alaska Republicans will join their counterparts in… Continue reading

Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, speaks March 20, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Proposal to define a fetus as a person in Alaska’s criminal code faces pushback

Opponents testified that the bill would threaten Alaskans’ abortion rights

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Monday, May 8, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House approves bigger merit scholarship for in-state high school students

The Alaska House of Representatives voted on Monday without opposition to raise… Continue reading

A mountain biker takes advantage of a trail at Eaglecrest Ski Area during the summer of 2022. The city-owned resort is planning to vastly expand its summer activities with a new gondola and the facilities by 2026. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)
Eaglecrest’s big summertime plans, including the gondola, get OK from planning commission

Ski area also planning new summit lodge, snowtubing park, bike trails and picnic pavilion by 2026.

Spruce Root was invited by the U.S. Forest Service to help roll out the Tongass National Forest Plan Revision process. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)
Resilient Peoples and Place: Stronger Together in 2024 — A letter from the Sustainable Southeast Partnership

Founded in 2012, the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP) is an Indigenous values-led… Continue reading

Students, parents and teachers rally outside Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé prior to a school board meeting Tuesday, seeking a change in the board’s decision to consolidate Juneau’s two high schools beginning with the next school year. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Layoffs and larger classes planned along with consolidation at local schools, but BSA increase would help

District leaders not counting on funds approved by Legislature, due to veto threat by governor.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, Feb. 26, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read