The Alaska Senate, on a vote of 18-1, passed a motion to begin better enforcing its own rules regarding Covid-19 health protocols.
Only Sen. Mike Shower voted against it. Sen. Lora Reinbold, who is the main concern in the building and who was mentioned extensively, although not by name, during the motion on Wednesday, had been asked to put on a face mask or leave the floor, and she left before the item appeared on the calendar.
Sen. Gary Stevens, the Rules chair, made the motion that didn’t seem to need to be made: It was that rules established by the Legislature be enforced by leadership.
But because Sen. Reinbold has been flouting the building rules, while Senate President Peter Micciche has tried to counsel her to no avail, nearly all legislators but Shower felt it was time for action.
There are 26 people from the building now infected with Covid, and one of them is in the hospital, sources in the Capitol said. This, in spite of the widespread use of the appropriate masks. The work in the Legislature is in danger of coming to a halt because of the rapidly spreading virus.
After the floor session, Reinbold tried to hold a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, still wearing her unauthorized face shield, when Senate President Peter Micciche canceled the meeting from under her.
The Senate has instructed him, through the motion, to keep her out of the Capitol except that she can attend floor sessions when a vote is happening so that her district is not disenfranchised.
Senate leadership has not yet stripped her of her committee chairmanship of Judiciary. Sources in the building told MRAK that Micciche is dealing with Reinbold issues for up to six hours a day. Reinbold not only has refused to wear a mask or even a shield that has a foam seal around it, she has pushed past the Beacon testing station where everyone gets their forehead temperature monitored upon entering the building, and she has refused the twice-weekly testing that is in the legislative rules.
The complaints from staff in the building about Reinbold were brought up in the floor speech given by Sen. Gary Stevens.
Stevens explained the problem in eloquent and sensitive terms, and set forth the solution that senators agreed on:
The motion in front of you, Mr. President gives Senate leadership the authority to exclude any senator from the Capitol building, until such a time as they follow legislative council policies.
The reason for these policies: to protect legislators and staff. All 59 legislators and all staff have complied, only one is not wearing an approved mask, going through testing through Beacon, are submitting temperature and questions when entering the building. This has concerned all of us. Staff has expressed fear, others have talked of early retirement. We are all employers; we come under federal law, Mr. President. We are responsible for protecting our employees, for keeping them safe. Right now, not wearing an approved mask does not protect them, but rather puts them in jeopardy. This misbehavior has not only taken up the Senate’s time but now also the other body. We have reached the point where it must be dealt with; we can no longer, in good conscience, ignore it.
Frankly, Mr. President, it is embarrassing that the other body, the speaker of the rules chair and building security were forced last night to enforce the rules to one of our members who was blatantly ignoring safety procedures.
Out of respect for our fellow senator, we have all spent inordinate amounts of time, many of us trying to reason, making accommodations, trying to provide appropriate CDC masks and it’s always been rejected in favor for masks that is simply not approved, allowed people not to test through Beacon but provide proof of negative testing — we have never seen it, Mr. President — bypass others waiting in line for entrance in the building, including saying that they have a meeting to attend to, which, we all had meetings to attend to. Mr. President we have patiently done everything that we could, to bring us, bring folks, bring our senators into compliance up to no avail. The choice, Mr. President, is a simple yes or no.
“Yes” indicates you support the safety rules concerned of the staff, concerned for our legislators, concerned for everyone in the building.
A “no” vote may be saying that you are against all safety rules. Opening the building to anyone. Not taking testing, not wearing a mask. That seems unconscionable to me, Mr. President.
Hopefully, soon we will get beyond this. Beyond the problem we’re facing with COVID-19. We have people in quarantine, in hospital. In the hospital, Mr. President. Today, we have six people testing positive. Two have quarantined, one of whom is in the hospital – is hospitalized. Things could be worse, Mr. President. They certainly could. But they aren’t, because we have enforced the very rules we are talking about right now.
Fortunately, Alaska is doing much better. Offering vaccines to anyone who wants it and I am looking forward to the day we can remove all of the rules. But we are not there yet.
Even if we get everyone vaccinated in this building who wants a vaccine, we are still a long way off from complete freedom. We still must observe precautions. I suspect we will still need to take great care right up to the last day of this session. There is still danger out there. Half a million Americans have died of COVID. Three-hundred Alaskans have died. We cannot just ignore these threats.
Mr. President, this is a difficult motion for me to make, it falls to the rules chair to make it. In my 21 years in the legislature, I have never seen any rules chair, or any senator, have to make such a motion. I have great respect for all senators, even the member who is making my life rather difficult at this moment. I consider her a friend, but we can no longer abide the behavior.
We have tried to dissuade her, offer her easier ways out than we have offered others, all to no avail. The time has come, Mr. President, for decisive action. None of us want to take it but we must for the safety of all of us.
Through this motion, we are allowing Senate leadership to exclude a senator from this building. An extraordinary action, Mr. President, unprecedented, but necessary.
So, how can this be remedied? How can a senator return to the building? It’s amazingly simple: do what everyone else is doing. One: wear an approved mask, as all the rest of us are doing. Two: test twice a week, as all of us in this building are now doing. And three: have your temperature taken to enter the building as all of us are now doing.
These are simple enough requirements, Mr. President, they protect each of us, both the people you are around as well as yourself. I ask for your support in this difficult time.