Anchorage Assembly considers legal changes to help city cope with virus

The Anchorage Assembly will meet Thursday in a special session to consider new rules for governing Alaska’s largest city during a coronavirus outbreak.

One ordinance would allow the mayor to declare a public health emergency and order treatment or quarantine for people who have a contagious disease. It was proposed by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

Another would loosen the requirement that at least six Assembly members meet in person to conduct business. If the ordinance passes, some of the six members could phone into a meeting during an emergency.

Assembly Chair Forrest Dunbar says it would allow the Assembly to function even if some members are on quarantine.

A third ordinance would allow the municipal clerk to close voting centers and provide alternate means of casting ballots if the city election occurs during an emergency.

Dunbar says most of the city election workers are older than 60, the age group that health officials warn is especially vulnerable to the virus. Dunbar says the municipality’s existing vote-by-mail and vote-at-home programs are better suited to protect public health.

The ordinances are on the agenda for introduction Thursday at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

A public hearing and possible vote would be on March 20.

As of Wednesday night, the state had not yet confirmed a case of coronavirus in Alaska but public health authorities say an outbreak here is likely. 

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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