Gov. Dunleavy proposes bill to extend Alaska’s COVID-19 disaster declaration through September

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy appeals to Alaskans to support neighbors, businesses and charities affected by COVID-19 this holiday season. He made the appeal during a news conference, Dec. 15, 2020. A sign language interpreter is on the lower left. (Screen capture of news conference)
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy appeals to Alaskans to support neighbors, businesses and charities affected by COVID-19 this holiday season. He made the appeal during a news conference, Dec. 15, 2020. On Monday, he proposed a bill that would extend Alaska’s COVID-19 disaster declaration through September. (Screen capture of news conference)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed a bill to Alaska’s legislature on Monday that would extend the state’s  COVID-19 public health disaster declaration through September. 

The bill would extend Dunleavy’s fourth declaration of the pandemic, which began on Jan. 15. It’s currently set to expire on Feb. 14.

Dunleavy issued the state’s initial declaration on March 11, 2020 and lawmakers later voted to extend it until Nov. 15.  State law requires that the Legislature vote to extend any disaster that lasts more than 30 days. 

However, the Legislature did not meet before the first declaration expired. Since then, Dunleavy has issued three more declarations, in the middle of the months of November, December and January.

These later declarations are not as wide-ranging as the first declaration — for example, they do not include a state moratorium on house foreclosures. But Alaska hospitals and municipal governments have said that maintaining a disaster declaration is necessary to give them the legal authority to respond to the pandemic. 

Across the country, state legislators have raised concerns about governors’ authority to issue long-lasting disaster declarations. Some lawmakers in other states have introduced bills to curb governors’ emergency powers. 

The measure, Senate Bill 56, was introduced by the Senate Rules Committee on Monday at Dunleavy’s request. It was referred to the Senate Health and Social Services Committee. 

The House can’t consider legislation until the chamber approves a speaker and organizes committees. That didn’t happen on Monday, as the chamber remains deadlocked, with 20 Republicans on one side and 15 Democrats, four independents and Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes on the other.

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