The Legislative Council sets the COVID-19 rules for the 2021 session
The Alaska Legislative Council set its anti-COVID-19 safety rules for the 2021 session on Dec. 28. These rules include limiting who can be in the chamber, mask requirements and asking members to remain seated.
These rules also limited the public and press from entering the chamber, and instead will allow them access to floor sessions that will be broadcast throughout the capitol.
The Joint House-Senate Legislative Council, which is in charge and will remain in charge of the rule-making procedure until the two houses elect leadership, voted 11-1 in favor of these rules.
“These rules only apply until we have a new president and speaker,” said Sen. Gary Stevens. “It is pretty extraordinary, but we know the fears that many of our employees have.”
Other policies that were enacted include having members request permission to approach the dais. Also, members who stand to be recognized must sit before making remarks and must remain seated while giving testimony and making remarks.
The safe session procedures will be enforced by the sergeant-at-arms until the election of a permanent presiding officer. These procedures will remain in place until the election of a presiding officer in both houses, which is expected to take time due to deadlocks in both houses.
There were concerns from members of the council, specifically Rep. DeLena Johnson, about how the removal of these legislators could hinder the legislative process because of the Senate and House deadlocks.
The rules include protocol on how they are to be enforced by Beacon OHSS and legislative security. For example, those who refuse testing or to submit to health screenings will be denied access to the capitol. Masks will be required to be worn by legislators. Those who refuse to wear their mask on the Senate or House floor will be escorted back to their office where they will have to remain.
Supporters of the mask mandate compared it to the legislature’s decorum rules which require a certain level of attire to be allowed on the legislative floor. In a statement the Legislative Council said, “requiring members to wear a face covering while on the floor and in the Capitol in the presence of others during global pandemic where human-to-human transmission can be deadly extends far beyond decorum.”
To date there have been seven Alaska state legislators who have died from COVID-19, three of those deaths occurred in the past 60 days.