Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold has been banned from the Capitol other than the Senate gallery during sessions, until she complies with COVID-19 safety rules.
Reinbold hasn’t followed requirements to wear a face mask and to undergo the COVID-19 rapid tests and temperature screenings required of everyone entering the Capitol.
The Senate voted 18-1 on Wednesday to allow leaders to enforce the rules. Shortly after the vote, Reinbold attempted to hold a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which she chairs. But Senate President Peter Micciche informed her that the meeting was cancelled due to unsafe conditions.
Micciche said after the vote that senators were concerned about the safety of both legislators and the people who work in the Capitol. He said some staff members have family members with compromised immune systems.
“We are going to have people follow the rules and we are going to keep people safe,” said Micciche, a Soldotna Republican.
He also said it’s important to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak from shutting down legislative work during the session.
Reinbold has not followed the face mask requirement throughout the session, instead wearing a transparent face shield that doesn’t comply with legislative rules. She said she has submitted negative PCR test results to leaders.
But she hasn’t undergone the antigen tests every four or five days or the daily skin temperature screenings that are required of everyone entering the Capitol, according to Senate Rules Committee Chair Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican.
Reinbold declined a request for an interview. On Facebook, she said the rules were being applied arbitrarily. She also wrote: “My actions are to protect my constitutional rights, including civil liberties and those who I represent, even under immense pressure and public scrutiny.”
Micciche said Reinbold will be provided with office space outside of the Capitol building until she complies with the rules. And she’ll be able to participate in committee meetings remotely. But while she’ll be able to participate in floor sessions and vote from one of the Senate galleries, she won’t be allowed on the floor.
“Our hope is that our colleague will realize how serious the impacts have been of COVID in the building, and to simply help us by following the rules like every other individual has,,” Micciche said. “So we hope that this is very temporary.”
He said Reinbold remains Judiciary Committee chair and a member of the Senate majority.
Micciche and Stevens said COVID-19 cases in the Capitol over the past two weeks — which include one person currently hospitalized — led to the action to enforce the rules. At the peak on March 4, six people were isolating after testing positive, and 21 more were in quarantine because they were close contacts of someone who was positive. Currently, five people are isolating or quarantining, including the person who is hospitalized, Micciche said.
Stevens chaired the Legislative Council when it passed the COVID-19 safety rules.
“It truly could have been much worse if we hadn’t had those rules in place,” he said. “Nobody can tell you how bad it would have been in this building if we had not asked everyone to wear a mask.”
Gov. Mike Dunleavy wrote a letter to Reinbold in February saying that she was spreading misinformation about the response to COVID-19 and that his administration wouldn’t cooperate with her.
The issue had been bubbling up over the week. On Monday, Reinbold left a Senate subcommittee meeting after chair Sen. Natasha von Imhof notified her she was required to wear a mask. On Tuesday, Reinbold was escorted by Capitol security out of a House Health and Social Services Committee meeting because she wouldn’t wear a mask.
Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower was the only senator to vote against allowing Senate leaders to enforce the rules. Reinbold was absent. She left the floor before the session started after being told to follow the rules.