A sign detailing the store’s mask policy stands outside Safeway in Soldotna on July 21, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign detailing the store’s mask policy stands outside Safeway in Soldotna on July 21, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Borough attorney signs letter refuting state’s claim that second-class boroughs can mandate masks

The letter describes specific statutes barring them from enacting mask mandate

Kenai Peninsula Borough Attorney Colette Thompson joined other second-class borough attorneys in pushing back on claims that their boroughs are able to enact mask mandates in response to COVID-19.

In a Nov. 18 letter, addressed to Alaska’s Acting Attorney General Ed Sniffen, the attorneys describe specific statutes that bar second-class boroughs from enacting mask mandates in response to a pandemic.

Earlier this month, Sniffen told reporters in an online briefing that municipalities, including second-class boroughs, can mandate face masks using their disaster powers, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

According to the letter, Alaska statute “Does not empower a political subdivision to perform responsibilities that it is not otherwise empowered to perform” during an emergency.

The letter explains that, during an emergency, second-class boroughs can stand up emergency shelters directly related to the emergency, maintain a website with updated information with pertinent information for residents and coordinate with other private and public agencies engaged in disaster response activities, among other things.

“Second class boroughs do not have ‘police powers’ or general health and social services powers and cannot implement measures for the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens as your office suggests,” the letter says.

In addition to Thompson, the letter was signed by Fairbanks North Star Borough Attorney Jill S. Dolan, Mat-Su Borough Attorney Nicholas Spiropoulos and Ketchikan Gateway Borough Attorney Glenn Brown. Additionally, the letter was signed by Attorney Joseph Levesque for Bristol Bay Borough and Aleutians East Borough and Scott Brandt-Erichsen for the Kodiak Island Borough.

Seward recently revived its mask mandate and is the only city on the peninsula to have enacted one.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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