The Alaska Senate passed a bill on Friday that is intended to ease the strain on hospitals from the COVID-19 surge.
Senators voted on the measure, Senate Bill 3006, after passing amendments to it aimed at preventing mandates for people to be vaccinated for COVID-19, like the ones announced by U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday. The amendments led some senators to oppose the bill.
Senators who supported the amendments criticized the Biden administration’s new vaccine mandate in floor speeches.
One amendment that passed would allow people to decline a COVID-19 vaccine for themselves or their children for any reason, rather than the medical or religious reasons required to be exempt from vaccines mandated for other diseases.
Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold proposed the amendment. She said people should have a right not to be vaccinated. And she criticized Biden’s action.
“What the executive branch on the federal level did yesterday was an atrocity,” she said. “And I think it’s completely illegal. I think it violates states’ rights. He does not have that permission to do that in the supreme law of the land, which is the Constitution.”
Bethel Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman opposed the amendment. He said the amendments made what he had seen as a good bill worse. He said the bill should have remained focused on trying to prevent Alaskans from dying from COVID-19.
“How can we be taking steps to put our families more at risk, when we should be doing just the opposite?” he said. “This is real life. This is real death we’re talking about. These are our citizens. These are our constituents.”
The Senate passed another amendment from Reinbold that would bar any business, state or local government, or school district from requiring vaccines to access an area or service that is open to the public. And another that would allow people to provide a positive COVID-19 test result instead of proof of vaccination.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed the bill after Alaska hospital leaders called for him to declare a public health disaster, which gives the state the authority to temporarily free hospitals from following some state and insurance regulations. Dunleavy opposes operating under a state disaster declaration. He introduced the bill as an alternative to provide hospitals with more flexibility.
The bill would allow for more use of telehealth care and ease state and insurance rules for hospitals.
The bill failed on an earlier vote, shortly after the amendments passed. But several senators reversed their votes later in the day. The House of Representatives could vote to remove the amendments focused on vaccine mandates before the session ends on Tuesday.