Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Nov. 6 that he is issuing a new 30-day disaster declaration in response to COVID. This goes into effect on Nov. 16 and expires on Dec. 15.
Dunleavy’s initial March 11 disaster declaration is set to expire on Nov. 15. In issuing another declaration he maintains that the virus has not abated, and that Alaska is not in a position to declare that a public emergency no longer exits.
“Given the tools the declaration will provide to the state, boroughs, and municipalities, as well as our health professionals and medical facilities, this declaration will continue to provide certainty to Alaskans during this pandemic,” Dunleavy said in a statement released Nov. 6. “The Legislature has indicated they do not currently have the support of their members to call themselves into a special session. If the Legislature chooses to convene to address this new order, my administration is ready to assist in developing long-term solutions to manage this emergency and protect the public safety and health of Alaskans.”
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Senate Democrats, while agreeing that an emergency declaration is needed, criticized the way Dunleavy went about doing so. A Nov. 6 statement from Senate Democrats argues that the emergency declaration should be done so via a special session of the Alaska Legislature and not unilaterally by the governor alone. Democrats maintain that the governor does not have legal authority to extend a disaster declaration without the Legislature’s approval.
“The Governor has clearly identified all of our growing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senate Democratic Leader Tom Begich. “We all recognize that this pandemic requires immediate action, but that action must follow the law. After personally reaching out to the governor to encourage him to work with the legislature, he has chosen a path that creates legal ambiguity. To rectify this situation, the governor need only to call the Legislature into special session with a narrow scope to extend the disaster declaration.”
Begich called on Dunleavy to “reconsider his decision in this matter and call the legislature back into special session in Juneau so we can do this right.”
The disaster declaration allows Dunleavy to waive or suspend state regulations, which have been used to access federal flexibilities in the delivery of healthcare across the state.
The declaration maintains the unified command structure between the Department of Health and Social Services, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Public Safety, and allows other state departments to utilize all capabilities to continue to take steps to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The unified command will continue to support local jurisdictions and the statewide public healthcare system.