Lawmakers screened for virus in Capitol before working on federal relief funding

Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, was the only legislator on the Senate Finance committee who chose to wear a mask on Monday in  Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

The Alaska Legislature gathered in the Capitol in Juneau on Monday to consider a plan to spend federal COVID-19 relief. 

Lawmakers, staff and news media were screened for coronavirus before entering the building — though lawmakers can refuse the screening. 

A set of rules distributed to lawmakers said face masks were mandatory. All of the House members wore masks during a floor session.  Six of the seven members of the Senate Finance Committee chose not to wear masks during a committee meeting. Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman, committee co-chair, said masks were optional for senators in the meeting. Wasilla Republican Sen. David Wilson was the only committee member to wear a mask. 

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent, said representatives were complying with safety rules.

“It will be my intent as the presiding officer to work with everyone to get our work done in as timely a manner as possible,” Edgmon said.   

Nathan Paris cleans the desks on the floor of state House after legislators held a session on Monday in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

That work entails considering a bill that would allow Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration to send more than $1.1 billion in federal CARES Act relief to communities, small businesses and others. Lawmakers also may consider a temporary change in the Legislature’s rules to allow for sessions to be held by videoconference.

The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill ratifying the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee’s recent approval of Dunleavy’s plan to spend the federal relief. 

A series of local and nonprofit leaders urged the committee to pass the bill. 

Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Lucy Nelson asked the Senate Finance Committee to move quickly. 

“We have experienced shortfalls of basic cleaning supplies and PPE to meet the needs of each community serviced by our borough,” Nelson said. “I can’t tell you how hard it’s been just to purchase basic necessities, like tissue, and hand wipes and Purell and all the other products to slow this pandemic down.”

House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, Monday in Juneau. Lawmakers gaveled in for the last few days of their regular session to pass a COVID-19 aid bill. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

The committee moved the bill to the Senate Rules Committee. The House version of the bill has advanced out of the rules committee in that chamber. 

Additionally, the Senate Rules Committee introduced a resolution on Monday that would suspend the Legislature’s rules during the pandemic to allow legislators to attend a session by videoconference. The House speaker and Senate president would still be required to be in the Capitol for these meetings. Two-thirds of both chambers must approve the resolution to suspend the rules.

Fifty-seven of the 60 members of the Legislature were present on Monday. The only members who were absent were Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower, Anchorage Democratic Rep. Zack Fields and Kotzebue independent Rep. John Lincoln. 

Speaker of the House Bryce Edgemon gavels out of a floor session on Monday in Juneau. Lawmakers gaveled in for the last few days of their regular session to pass a COVID-19 aid bill. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)