Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed key legislation Friday that enables the state to continue accepting federal relief dollars to assist impacted Alaskans and to extend liability protections for Alaska businesses.
After signing House Bill 76 into law, the governor immediately ended the state of Alaska Covid-19 Disaster Declaration, which was part of the legislation.
“Today, I took immediate action to end the Covid-19 disaster declaration,” Dunleavy said in a prepared statement. “Alaska is in the recovery phase where an emergency declaration is no longer necessary.”
He said the state is “fully functioning” with vaccine distribution, Covid-19 testing and health care capacity to care for patients with the virus.
“It is important our focus remains on getting Alaska’s economy back on track and welcoming summer tourism,” he said.
The governor’s decision to end the emergency declaration prompted criticism by some lawmakers.
“The House Coalition worked collaboratively with frontline health workers, hospital leaders, and business owners to provide practical tools needed to end the pandemic,” House Speaker Louise Stutes, a Kodiak Republican, said. “Unfortunately, the governor opted for politics over policy and decided to gamble with the health of Alaskans and with our economic recovery.”
But Senate President Peter Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna, said “I am proud to stand with Gov. Dunleavy as Alaska transitions back to normalcy.”
In signing the bill into law, Dunleavy enables Alaska to accept federal Covid relief funds “without the risk of chargeback to the state treasury.”
Chargeback costs in 2021 could reach $100 million, according to the governor’s office.
In addition, the legislation:
• Continues Alaska’s vaccine distribution and Covid-19 management programs;
• Keeps enhanced SNAP benefits for food assistance;
• Creates comprehensive liability protections for Alaska’s businesses;
• Bans using Covid relief dollars for abortions in Alaska.
Adam Crum, commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services, supported the governor’s actions.
Crum also signed a more limited order that keeps the state eligible for federal aid by addressing the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Those actions include conducting surveillance, maintaining federal benefits and leading a coordinated response that involves the federal government, municipalities, the state and tribal organizations.
Crum said in a memo that the state has “a comprehensive health infrastructure” to respond to Covid-19.
Public health officials will continue activities to keep infection rates down, make testing widely available and ensure hospitals and other health care facilities have the capacity to treat the virus.
Contact political reporter Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.