Alaska’s legislative leaders are calling on Gov. Mike Dunleavy to call a special session to extend the state’s public health emergency disaster declaration that expires on Nov. 15. Dunleavy’s office says the governor is considering all options.
In a letter earlier this week, Anchorage Republican Senate President Cathy Giessel and Dillingham independent House Speaker Bryce Edgmon asked Dunleavy to either call the session or to appeal to legislators to hold one.
Giessel said having the Legislature extend the declaration would ensure that it will hold up legally. State law says the Legislature must approve the extension of any disaster that lasts more than 30 days.
“Our driving focus is maintaining safety here in the state of Alaska, for municipalities, for businesses, for families, and empowering the governor to continue to put in place solid policies to reduce the spread of this virus,” Giessel said.
Dunleavy declared a disaster on March 11 and asked the Legislature to extend it for a year. The Legislature amended the bill to extend the declaration so that it would end on Nov. 15.
Health care providers, hospital leaders and municipal officials have called for the declaration to be extended, saying they need it to respond to COVID-19.
Edgmon said a special session would be narrowly focused.
“We need to make the call very limited, keep it to one item, and create an environment, such as the one we had in May, where the Legislature went down and very quickly get its business done with,” Edgmon said.
Dunleavy Chief of Staff Ben Stevens has said that if the Legislature didn’t immediately call itself into session, the governor could issue a new disaster declaration. He said state law would allow that.
While members of both majorities in the Legislature support a special session, others oppose extending the declaration.
Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micchiche said Giessel hadn’t polled him on whether to hold a special session. He said he’s skeptical of extending all of the powers laid out in the original declaration. He added that he’s open to Dunleavy taking limited action, which he said the Legislature could review once it gathers for its regular session in January.