With no fanfare, Gov. Mike Dunleavy today signed HB 76, the disaster declaration that enables a robust and nimble statewide Covid-19 response.
Then, with Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum, Senate President Peter Micciche, and House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton at his side, Dunleavy signed a proclamation declaring the disaster over.
It all happened within a few minutes during the deadline day for preserving incoming federal dollars for the pandemic mitigation efforts.
“Today I took immediate action to end the COVID-19 disaster declaration. Alaska is in the recovery phase where an emergency declaration is no longer necessary,” said Gov. Dunleavy. “Our systems are fully functioning with vaccine distribution, adequate testing, and health care capacity. It is important our focus remains on getting Alaska’s economy back on track and welcoming summer tourism throughout our great state. I am confident in our state’s future as we move forward.”
HB 76 was masterfully and patiently crafted. Conservatives who didn’t want a continued disaster declaration condition in the State of Alaska understood the ramifications of not having HB 76, and the fiscal consequences for the state.
With HB 76 and the ending the disaster declaration, Dunleavy ushers in the acceptance of federal Covid relief funds without risk of chargeback to the state treasury.
Some estimates placed the chargeback costs in 2021 at $100 million. The legislation also ensures the uninterrupted continuation of the State’s vaccine distribution and Covid-19 management programs, which includes enhanced SNAP benefits to Alaskans for help with their food bills. HB 76 contains a comprehensive liability protection for Alaska businesses, and bans the use of any federal Covid-19 relief funds to be used for abortions in Alaska.
The governor’s actions follow recommendation by DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum that concluded the public health emergency disaster declaration is no longer needed.
Crum signed a Public Health Order, directing DHSS to continue taking all necessary actions to address the Covid-19 pandemic, including leading Alaska’s Covid-19 vaccination efforts by facilitating cooperation between local health officers, state agencies, tribal health authorities, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
“While Covid-19 is still present in Alaska, the urgent nature of the pandemic has passed and we are no longer anticipating the widespread emergency that Alaska faced earlier in this pandemic,” wrote Commissioner Crum in a memo to the governor. “As a result of the state’s early containment efforts, we have established a comprehensive public health infrastructure to respond to Covid-19 that will remain in place as we continue to strive to keep infection rates low, testing availability high, and protect the capacity of our health care facilities to address cases of Covid-19, while accommodating all medical and health related issues that the residents of our state encounter.”
Thousands of Alaskans who are suffering due to the economy would have been left high and dry, and the state would not be able to have a nimble response to vaccine distribution. The red tape involving medical response would hobble the ability to keep a lid on a highly contagious virus that can be deadly or debilitating. The conservatives trusted the governor that he would not keep Alaska in a state of disaster, although the previous disaster declaration expired on Feb. 14.
That’s why many of them signed on to the bill, or at least signed on the critical “effective date.” The governor worked with both liberals and arch conservatives to come to a happy medium so Covid costs will be reimbursed by the federal government.
HB 76 is a success story for the state, according to many inside the Capitol. One lobbyist said: “It shows the Republicans can be both principled and pragmatic. They could have destroyed this bill and then Biden would have sent a payment-due notice for all of our Covid-related costs. Instead, they worked with the governor to get to a reasonable agreement.”
“I am proud to stand with Gov. Dunleavy as Alaska transitions back to normalcy. Today, we celebrate the end of the emergency declaration thanks to innovative solutions in the Senate’s version of HB 76,” said Senate President Peter Micciche. “In collaboration with the administration and the House, this bill was designed to manage us out of the pandemic, while still protecting Alaskans. It will provide critical economic support to those harmed by local government actions, helping them rebuild their lives and regain financial independence. The emergency declaration is dead, and the tools are here for businesses to reopen, students to return to the classroom, and for all to enjoy the freedom of a pre-Covid Alaska.”
In Must Read Alaska’s research, never before has a governor of Alaska had to proclaim the end of a disaster. The end result of HB 76 and the proclamation that followed is that in Alaska there are, at least on the state level:
- No mandatory testing
- No quarantine
- No restrictions on businesses
- No mask mandates
- No shutdowns
In Anchorage, there is still a mask mandate via order of the mayor.