Alaska Capitol

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is urging the Legislative Council to reopen the state Capitol, which has been closed to the public since March 2020, the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a June 15 letter to Rep. Sara Hannan, who chairs the Alaska Legislative Council, Dunleavy said a meeting should be convened to end the restriction and “allow Alaskans to have a measure of actual engagement with their elected officials.”

“The people of Alaska remain unable to petition their government because their representatives are literally blocked off from them,” the governor said in his letter.

The legislative council, which oversees internal affairs for the Legislature, has the authority to address public access to the Capitol. 

Hannan, a Juneau Democrat, has declined to speak for the council until that body meets and reviews the issue.

A spokesperson for Hannan said that the lawmaker was “puzzled” by the letter because the council planned to take up the issue this week. 

A meeting scheduled for Tuesday was delayed until noon today due to state budget negotiations as the Legislature wraps up a special session, according to Hannan’s office.

Lawmakers are finalizing the state budget and the Permanent Fund dividend in a special session that is scheduled to end Friday. A second special session is slated for August. 

Lawmakers, their staff and a small number of journalists are granted access to the Capitol. Wearing masks is no longer required, a mandate that ended in May. 

Alaskans “deserve the opportunity to participate in person and see their government in action,” Dunleavy said, noting that lawmakers are about to vote on an operating budget with “billions of dollars at stake.”

Although restrictions of public gatherings were implemented more than a year ago to protect public health, Dunleavy said the measures at the Capitol now “seem unnecessary at best, and purposefully perpetuated at this moment in time.”

With the Capitol closed to the public, legislative proceedings cannot be watched in person. Lobbyists have been limited to Zoom to advocate on issues before lawmakers.

However, anyone with internet access can watch the proceedings live or later on video recordings.

Lawmakers cannot host in-person visits at the Capitol. As well, groups cannot stage organized protests inside the Capitol until the restrictions are lifted.

Contact political reporter Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.