Capitol Report: Should conditions improve, Legislature may reconvene

Hello again. As you may recall, the Legislature is in recess after lawmakers passed the Fiscal Year 2021 budget early Sunday, March 29. That day, we also passed a bill that gives the governor the broad authority to respond to ever-changing developments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Alaska constitution allows for the Legislature to meet for 121 days (which this year is May 19). Should conditions improve before then, we may reconvene the session. A more likely scenario is that we will meet in a special session later this year.

In the meantime, legislators are adjusting to our present reality. This means following social distancing guidelines, working remotely, and more frequent use of video and audio conferencing. Most importantly, we are following the advice of Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink, who has been doing a tremendous job of keeping the state informed and providing sensible solutions to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Dr. Zink’s input will also be instrumental as Alaska begins to reopen for business, which we all hope can begin occurring soon.

Keeping track of the latest news

If you have internet access, I highly encourage to regularly check the Department of Health and Social Services’ website for updates on COVID-19. You can find the site at dhss.alaska.gov.

The governor and his team have also been providing updates weeknights at 5 p.m., which have been aired by Alaska’s media. You can find out more online at gov.alaska.gov.

Joint Education Committee hearing

The Senate Education Committee, which I chair, is holding a joint hearing with the House Education Committee on Wednesday, April 22, starting at 1 p.m. At that time, we will find out more about what is happening with education in this difficult time.

During the meeting, we will hear from the Commissioner of Education and Early Development, Dr. Michael Johnson, about the use of virtual education. University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen will also update us on the university’s response to COVID-19 and its efforts to aide students at this time. We also will talk with school district administrators, and discuss fiscal issues brought on by the pandemic.

Full details on how you can follow the meeting online are forthcoming.

On a related note, I have had the opportunity to talk about what’s happening at the local level with some of the administrators of Senate District P’s school districts in recent days. I am enormously proud of the creative, innovative approaches administrators, teachers and support staff are taking to bring the classroom to students at home.

Alaska legal services

The Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC) is working diligently to provide help for Alaskans dealing with COVID-19 issues by gathering legal resources in a self-help website. You can find the site at AlaskaLawHelp.org.

The site also includes guidance and answers to many frequently asked questions relating to civil legal issues and COVID-19. It also covers a wide-range of topics specific to COVID-19, including housing, domestic violence, unemployment, health, worker rights, debts, scams, public benefits, and stimulus checks.

If you are unable to get online, you can also contact ALSC toll-free at 1-888-478-2572. 

Personal use and sport fishing

Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials say sport and personal use fishing will remain open, consistent with published regulations this season, subject to compliance with state of Alaska Public Health Mandates.

Although travel between communities is prohibited under the issued health mandates, the public may still travel to fishing locations. When traveling to participate in sport or personal use fisheries that occur outside of their communities of residence, the public must follow these guidelines:

  1. Conduct your fishing activities as close to your home residence as possible;
  2. Local mandates may be authorized under Public Health Mandate 012. Find out local mandates in communities through which you plan to travel and abide by them;
  3. Totally provision your trip from your community of origin. Don’t plan on buying food, drinks or even fuel (if possible) after you begin your trip and until you return home;
  4. Practice social distancing while sport or personal use fishing; and,
  5. Highly suggest anglers wear face coverings as suggested in Health Alert 010 issued April 3.

Subsistence fishing also remains open and unrestricted under the issued health mandates.

Thanks to District P’s media, and to you for reading this edition of The Capitol Report. Please stay safe.