Updated at 3:50
The Alaska Legislature is planning to reconvene in Juneau on Monday to formally approve federal COVID-19 relief. The move comes following a lawsuit that seeks to block the state government’s current plan for dispersing the funds.
The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee approved Governor Mike Dunleavy’s plan for the federal relief funding on Monday. Juneau resident Eric Forrer and his lawyer Joe Geldhof filed the lawsuit on Wednesday. It alleges that the process was unconstitutional because the entire Legislature must vote to appropriate spending.
Senate President Cathy Giessel said lawmakers want the money to go out quickly to communities, small businesses and others. She says a vote to approve the committee’s action is the only item on the agenda.
“With the understanding that a lawsuit could stop the distribution of this money, the Legislature is taking action immediately, again, because it is our goal to get this money to the Alaskans that need it,” Giessel said.
Giessel said she expects lawmakers to discuss making changes that could affect how the state spends any future federal relief.
“On the other hand, I don’t know that we will reach consensus on that,” she said.
The Legislature may not take up any other business, like holding a joint session to confirm Dunleavy’s appointments. Giessel said there are practical and time constraints to holding such a session. She said one may be held on the day before the next Legislature convenes in January.
Legislative staff have distributed a set of safety rules for the latest session. State Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink and State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin reviewed the rules.
Under those rules, the Capitol will remain closed to the public. Legislators, staff and news reporters will be screened when entering the building. Legislators can decline the screening. Those who have been screened will receive a sticker showing they were screened. Masks will be required, and people are being told to stay six feet away from others.
When the Legislature left Juneau in late March, it recessed but didn’t adjourn. Under the state constitution, Wednesday is the last day of the session.
The Alaska Legislature is planning to reconvene next week to formally appropriate federal COVID-19 relief, following a lawsuit that seeks to block the state government’s current plan for the relief.
Lawmakers would meet in Juneau, according to a spokesperson for the Senate majority.
Legislative staff and the state Department of Health and Social Services are working on rules to discourage coronavirus infections.
The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee approved Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan for more than $1 billion in federal CARES Act relief on Monday.
Juneau resident Eric Forrer and his lawyer Joe Geldhof filed the lawsuit, which alleges that the process was unconstitutional because the entire Legislature must vote to appropriate spending. Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg has been assigned the case.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the lawsuit alleges the process for dispersing federal CARES Act relief funding is unconstitutional.