Alaska State Capitol reopens to the public as lawmakers scale back pandemic policies

The Alaska State Capitol doors have required key cards to unlock throughout the 2021 legislative session, June 16, 2021. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)
The Alaska State Capitol doors have required key cards to unlock throughout the 2021 legislative session. But membres of the public who approached the doors during business hours were granted entry beginning on Wednesday afternoon. The Legislative Council voted to reopen the building to the public. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska State Capitol is open to the public for the first time in 15 months.

The Legislative Council voted on Wednesday to revise its pandemic safety policies to allow for public access to the Capitol. All 10 council members present voted for the reopening.

The policy change also ends mandatory screenings for lawmakers, legislative aides, executive branch employees and news reporters to enter the Capitol.

Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens said the safety policies protected those in the Capitol and thanked the Legislature’s nonpartisan staff for implementing them. He helped develop the safety policies when he served as the Legislative Council chair last year.

“We’ve had very limited exposure in this building,” Stevens said. “We should be very, very proud of it.”

The House version of the budget required that the Capitol be opened by the last day of the regular session in May. That provision isn’t in the compromise budget passed this week. But the policy change went into effect immediately, allowing the public in before the end of the special session.

“That has been a day that I looked forward to,” said Rep. Cathy Tilton, a Palmer Republican and council member. “I was hoping we would get to this day sooner and have Alaska’s Capitol open to Alaskans. But I am very pleased that this day is here.”

The Legislature’s contract with the company that has done COVID-19 screening and testing, Beacon Occupational Health and Safety Services, expires this month.

The change comes just over a month after the Legislature ended a mandate to wear face masks in the Capitol. That policy had been the focus of disputes between legislative leaders and Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold.

The legislative special session must end by Friday. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has called a second special session, scheduled to begin on Aug. 2.

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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