Gov. Dunleavy proposes bill to extend Alaska’s COVID-19 disaster declaration through September

A white man with gray hair and black zippup jacket
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about the state’s COVID-19 response from the Atwood Building in Anchorage on March 23, 2020. (Office of Gov. Dunleavy)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed a bill on Monday that would extend Alaska’s COVID-19 public health disaster declaration through September of 2021. 

The bill would extend Dunleavy’s fourth declaration of the pandemic, which began on Jan. 15. and is set to expire Feb. 14.

Dunleavy issued the state’s initial disaster declaration on March 11, 2020. Lawmakers later voted to extend it until Nov. 15. State law requires the Legislature to vote on extending any disaster that lasts more than 30 days. 

However, the Legislature did not meet before the first declaration expired. Since then, Dunleavy has issued three more declarations, in November and December 2020, and January 2021.

The later declarations are not as wide-ranging as the first: For example, they don’t include a state moratorium on house foreclosures. But Alaska’s hospitals and municipal governments have said maintaining the disaster declaration is necessary to give them the legal authority to respond to the pandemic. 

Across the country, state legislators have raised concerns about governors’ authority to issue long-lasting disaster declarations. Some lawmakers in other states have introduced bills to curb governors’ emergency powers. 

Senate Bill 56 would extend disaster status through the fall and was introduced by the Senate Rules Committee at Dunleavy’s request on Monday. It was referred to the Senate Health and Social Services Committee. 

The House can’t consider legislation until the chamber approves a speaker and organizes committees. That didn’t happen on Monday: The chamber remains deadlocked, with 20 Republicans on one side and 15 Democrats, four independents and Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes on the other.