The House floor session on Monday came to an abrupt end after Speaker Louise Stutes, who arrived late, gaveled in and then immediately called for a recess. Stutes said that the memo she had sent to legislative offices earlier in the day was clear: All members and staff must wear face masks in the House Chambers. There were members in the room who were unmasked, and therefore she was calling a recess until they comply.
The KTOO camera that films and broadcasts proceedings inside the chamber avoided panning to one side, where three members — Reps. Ben Carpenter, David Eastman, and Chris Kurka — were defying the mask mandate. Other Republican members present were also wearing their masks on their chins or barely covering their noses.
The Speaker has ordered the sergeant at arms to prevent anyone from entering the chamber who is unmasked. The three legislators remained in the room; if they leave, they won’t be allowed to return without a properly masked face.
Eastman then posted his point of view on Facebook:
“The Speaker has made it clear that she considers me a threat to her health based on the personal medical interventions I choose to take or not take. She is incorrect. I am not a threat. I am not sick. Unlike the Speaker, I did not attend a floor session while sick last week (with COVID, if reports are to be believed). I do have a documented, non-contagious respiratory condition from my time in the military. Even so, I have sacrificed my personal health repeatedly by wearing a mask. In fact, I was the first member of the legislature to wear a mask during legislative business. However, I will not sit by while a fellow member of the legislature is threatened with not being permitted to fulfill their constitutional duty to cast a vote in the legislature because they are not wearing a mask while doing so. There is no constitutional requirement to wear a mask or constitutional authority to prevent a fellow legislator from voting. There is a constitutional requirement that a legislator “faithfully discharge [their] duties as a state legislator”. Those duties obviously include the ability to vote. That requirement is found in Art. XII, Sec. 5 of the Alaska Constitution.”
An outbreak of Covid-19 was identified by Beacon, the company contracted to do testing for legislators and staff. Beacon said that the spread was due to a large number of staffers attending Sham Jam, the fundraiser held at the Red Dog Saloon, where proceeds are given to a local nonprofit. Mostly Democrats attended Sham Jam this year, which was held on March 26.
One Republican in the building commented, “People are allowed to not wear masks in halls, offices, everywhere but on the floor. The majority wants to slow roll the budget to get extra days of per diem. So they make silly rules to blame the Republicans for the budget not moving.”