Dunleavy says returning to disaster declaration jeopardizes tourism

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about his budget proposal, which would begin next July, during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2020. (Screen capture of video stream from the governor's office)
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about his budget proposal during a news conference in December. On Wednesday, he sent a letter to all legislators saying the state should not return to having a disaster declaration. (Screen capture of video stream from the governor’s office)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy sent a letter to all legislators on Wednesday saying the state should not return to having a disaster declaration. He instead wants the Legislature to pass a more limited bill. 

“To reenter a state of disaster without apparent catalyst would irreparably harm the trust Alaskans have placed in us,” he wrote. “Further, it could lead travelers to incorrectly assume that Alaska’s situation is deteriorating, jeopardizing the livelihoods of those working in one of our largest and hardest-hit industries.”

Dunleavy was referring to tourism. In the letter, he said tourism and recreation businesses are gearing up for the summer. He also noted that airline capacity for the state has increased, small cruise ships are operating; and “even our most cautious” municipalities are lightening restrictions.

Hospital leaders opposed ending the disaster declaration, in part because it led to the end of mandatory COVID-19 testing for air passengers. And they have said that not mandating tests for travelers contributes to the spread of the disease in the state. 

Dunleavy had proposed a bill to extend his disaster declaration before it expired on Feb. 14. The House did not organize before it expired. 

After the declaration expired, Dunleavy said he no longer wanted to have a disaster declaration. He wants a limited bill that would allow the state to allocate and distribute COVID-19 vaccines; provide limited liability to health officials responding to the pandemic; continue enhanced telemedicine; and authorize the state to receive federal funding, such as $8 million per month in family food aid. 

The House could consider a bill as soon as Thursday that would extend the disaster declaration, including making it retroactive to the expiration. 


Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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