Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The House of Representatives passed a bill extending Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s public health disaster emergency declaration until this fall.
The measure also ensures essential services will continue even if the COVID-19 outbreak takes a significant toll on Alaska.
Senate Bill 241 passed the House on a 34-1 vote Thursday afternoon. The proposal now returns to the Senate for final legislative approval and will ultimately return to the desk of the governor, who introduced the bill, before it becomes a law. Members of the Legislature and the governor are working across party lines to fast-track the passage of this bill.
“Extending the disaster declaration gives those on the front lines increased ability to respond to this pandemic and allows Alaskans to conduct business while adhering to hunker down mandates,” Rep. Chuck Kopp (R-Anchorage) said. “Our duty as a Legislature is to protect Alaskans to the best of our abilities, and we will continue working to find ways to lift their burdens in this difficult time.”
The bill takes several important steps, namely by extending the governor’s initial 30-day public health emergency until November 15, unless the governor declares that the emergency is over sooner; providing $10 million from the Disaster Relief Fund to assist with any expenses that arise during response efforts, which is in addition to emergency funding authorized in other budgets; granting Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink the authority to issue standing orders for healthcare providers related to COVID-19.
It also allows Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to direct Alaskans to vote by mail in primary or statewide special elections in 2020 if in-person elections are deemed to compromise public health; guarantees that first responders, nurses, and doctors will receive workers compensation; gives the Division of Professional Licensing the ability to expedite the process of issuing licenses to individuals who hold a corresponding license in another jurisdiction, making it so an influx of out-of-state professionals could quickly work here if it becomes necessary, and enables the Department of Community, Commerce and Economic Development to provide COVID-19 related grants to small businesses to prevent bankruptcy or layoffs.
A floor amendment adopted also ensures that out-of-state Alaskans who are quarantined or avoiding travel due to COVID-19 remain eligible for their PFD even if they’re gone for more than the allowed 180 days.