Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Friday that he will issue a new statewide COVID-19 emergency declaration, hours after hospital administrators urged the governor to take action.
The 30-day Declaration of Public Health Disaster Emergency will go into effect on 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2020 and will expire on 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 15.
“Given the rise in cases and given the uncertainty over the next two to three months, I will extend this declaration on Nov. 16 at 12:01 a.m.,” Dunleavy said during a Friday night press conference. “I continue to work with the Legislature to see if we can get a session called by the Legislature so that we can act upon this.”
Until Friday evening, Dunleavy had not made clear whether he would extend the declaration, which prompted the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association to hold their own news conference Friday morning and demand action from the governor, a move that ASHNHA CEO Jared Kosin called “unprecedented” during the conference.
“To ask six CEOs to stop what they’re doing to address the public directly is something that we do not do lightly,” Kosin said Friday morning. “People often ask, ‘When will the alarm bells be going off? When are you guys worried?’ This shows where we all stand. Where we are with the numbers today is not acceptable, and we will not make it through this unless we change our actions.”
Kosin and the other CEOs also laid out the specific tools that hospitals and health care providers would lose with the expiration of the declaration, mentioning the ability for hospitals to provide telehealth services and operate alternate care sites as two important functions granted by the emergency declaration. Dunleavy said Friday night that his new declaration would address the specific concerns of health care providers.
During his Friday press conference, Dunleavy was asked if he would be calling a special session of the Legislature in order for them to pass a bill that codifies the emergency declaration beyond 30 days. Dunleavy said that the Legislature can call their own special session.
“I think the Legislature is working on that and that’s what the discussions have been in the last several days, actually going back more than a week,” Dunleavy said. “So that’s why we’re having this discussion right now, talking about how we need the declaration on Nov. 16, but the Legislature can call itself back in.”
In response to Dunleavy’s announcement, several members of Alaska’s Legislature issued statements critical of the governor’s decision, including Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage.
“It’s concerning to me that the governor has chosen this far more arbitrary and tenuous course of action,” Giessel said in a statement issued Friday night. “His choice places Alaska communities, healthcare providers, businesses, and citizens in an unstable, unpredictable position. If the action is challenged in court, our state security and stability become on trial and in jeopardy. The option was available to do this right, and I urge the governor to reconsider his course of action.”
A Sept. 29 memo from the Legislature’s Division of Legal and Research Services stated that the governor does not have the authority to issue a new emergency declaration — only Alaska’s Legislature has that authority.
“No statutory provision authorizes the governor to issue a second declaration for the same emergency,” the letter from Legal Services Director Megan Wallace reads. “The governor can take actions within the scope of the disaster declaration for the 30 days that it is in effect. After that, it may only be extended by the legislature.”
When asked if he felt his decision would withstand a legal battle, Dunleavy said it would be up to the courts to decide.
Alaska Senate Democrats also sent a letter to Dunleavy on Nov. 4 stating that the Legislature has not called itself into session because it does not have the 40 votes needed to do so.
“As you are well aware, there are factions within both legislative bodies that will likely not act without your express request for their support,” the letter reads.
If the Legislature does not convene to pass an extension of the original emergency declaration, Dunleavy’s new 30-day declaration will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 16.
This article has been updated to clarify that the governor did not extend the original disaster declaration but issued a new declaration.
Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at firstname.lastname@example.org.