COVID, transparency, and LGBTQ-related bills teed up for Alaska’s 2021 legislative session

Looking ahead to Alaska’s 2021 legislative session, state lawmakers have pre-filed nearly 100 bills covering a broad range of issues. When session begins next Tuesday, here are several health-related bills we’ll be watching.

 

 

COVID-19 & Transparency:

Among the list are several pandemic-related pieces of legislation. House Bill 4 would exempt businesses and employees from liability for “sickness, death, economic loss, and other damages suffered by a customer” who is exposed to COVID-19 while patronizing the business, unless there is intentional misconduct or gross negligence. House Bill 1 would require an audit of CARES Act expenditures for the community assistance program and direct grants to communities and municipalities. The audit would be due to the legislature January 20, 2022.

Also related to the pandemic, Rep. Andy Josephson has pre-filed HB 45, which would help assure compensation for frontline workers – such as EMTs, paramedics, providers, and teachers – for illness-related absences during disaster emergencies due to contagious disease outbreaks.

Sen. Tom Begich has also introduced a bill that would establish a grant program to award essential workers with tuition for post-secondary education. Those applying would need to have been employed as an essential worker in Alaska when the federal government declared the public health emergency on January 31, 2020, and either maintained employment during the emergency or were laid off.

Another bill (SB 25), also referred to as the Alaska Online Checkbook Act, would require the state to create a website where the public is able to easily access centralized state financial information. Information on the website would include details on state revenue, expenditures, and the balances of budget reserve funds and the permanent fund earnings reserve account.

 

LGBTQ:

House Bill 8, introduced by Representative Sara Hannan, would ban “conversion therapy” for minors and vulnerable adults.

A practitioner would not be able to treat these individuals “with a therapy or another regimen that seeks to change the individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behavior or gender expression or reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attraction or feelings toward a person of the same gender,” reads the bill.

House Bill 17 would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression in employment, places of public accommodation, or the sale or rental of property.

The Alaska State Legislature will take up these issues and more beginning January 19, 2021.