COVID outbreak in Alaska Legislature delays budget action

House Speaker Louise Stutes temporarily required lawmakers to wear a mask after learning 10 members testified positive

Updated: March 30, 2022 - 11:08pm

Some Alaska legislation, including the state budget, is on hold as floor sessions are canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The House of Representatives was scheduled to hear the fiscal year 2023 budget on Monday. House Speaker Louise Stutes temporarily required House members to wear a mask after learning ten members testified positive, according to information from Joe Plesha, communications director for the Alaska House Coalition.

Stutes suspended the session after some representatives refused to masks, Plesha said. Senate sessions are also on hold, according to the Legislature's website.

Twenty-six people, either lawmakers or staff members, had tested positive for COVID-19 by Wednesday, Plesha said.

The House and Senate will have "technical sessions" on Thursday, where the chambers will come to order and immediately adjourn.

Plesha said the House will not meet again until Monday, and lawmakers will read the budget.

House Republicans criticized the decision to suspend floor sessions.

"The actions taken by the majority coalition leadership are a result of fear and virtue-signaling," the members said in a statement. "Neither are fitting for a body of elected officials with a constitutional responsibility to pass an operating budget. The fact that some choose not to wear a mask is not a viable excuse to abruptly adjourn or cancel the floor session. Debatable science must not dictate the people's business every time COVID makes an appearance."

Committee meetings have continued this week, and lawmakers are still getting paid, Plesha said.

Alaska's legislative sessions can last up to 120 days. If lawmakers take longer, a special session is required.

"At this point, we don't anticipate having to do that," Plesha said. "We still anticipate being able to pass the budget at this time.