Earlier today, the Alaska House of Representatives passed House Bill 76 (HB 76), extending the public health disaster emergency declaration until September 30, 2021. This legislation seeks to continue the necessary public funding of testing, vaccinations, and grants to re-open our economy safely while limiting the powers of the governor.
The previous declaration bill expired on November 15 of last year. The governor illegally extended the declaration three more times without legislative approval until February 14.
HB 76 was introduced by Governor Dunleavy. Initially, the bill gave the governor overly broad powers, including the ability to usurp the Alaska State Legislature’s appropriation powers. This would allow the governor to bypass the legislature and use federal COVID-19 relief funding anyway he wanted without oversight and approval.
Thankfully, the bill was rewritten during the committee process to reclaim those powers. This may be the reason why the governor started lobbying against his own bill. Without HB 76, I fear the governor will again declare yet another emergency disaster without any limitations.
HB 76 is a good bill that seeks to build on the success in fighting the coronavirus. It’s widely supported by organizations across the state, including:
- Alaska Public Health Association
- Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association
- Alaska Chamber of Commerce
- Alaska Municipal League
- Alaska Primary Care Association
- Food Bank of Alaska
- Alaska Food Coalition
- Alaska Children’s Trust
HB 76 allows Alaska to receive millions in federal funding and ensure our upcoming tourism and fishing seasons can be conducted safely. The bill includes provisions to:
- Allow Alaska to operate airport testing sites for out-of-state travelers.
- Give healthcare providers the ability to offer off-site testing and vaccination clinics.
- Provide waivers for the continued use of expanded telehealth services.
- Secure an additional $8 million a month in federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
- Turn Economic Injury Disaster Loans into grants.
Despite untruthful rhetoric from many of the bill’s opponents, HB 76 does not impose harsh restrictions on people and businesses.
- HB 76 does not mandate masks.
- HB 76 does not call for hunker-down orders.
- HB 76 does not put in place restrictions on businesses.
- HB 76 does not put restrictions on schools.
HB 76 will now go to the Senate and they plan to work quickly with hearings in the Senate Finance Committee on Monday and Tuesday.
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Please be safe,