“Lora, we’re going to ask you to put a mask on,” said House Speaker Louise Stutes in the sort of tone an elementary school teacher would approach a misbehaving student. At her side was Rules Committee Chair Bryce Edgmon and a capital security guard.
“I-I have,” muttered Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold, an extreme-right covid-denying legislator who has spent much of session trying to make the case that the covid-19 pandemic has been overblown with a parade of increasingly bizarre hearings and stunts all while mostly wearing a clear plastic face shield that many have pointed out flouts the Legislature’s requirement that everyone wear a CDC-compliant cloth mask.
“No, that doesn’t work in here and that’s not the parameters we have set for the House,” Stutes replied as the co-chairs of the House Health and Social Services look on in the background, their hearing on the state’s emergency disaster declaration delayed in order to address Reinbold’s presence. “So, if you want to stay in here, you’re either going to have to put a mask on or have to leave.”
“But I have a face shield on and I’m complying…” Reinbold claimed in what would be the third time in two days that legislators’ patience had finally run out on the plastic face shield and she had been asked to mask up or leave.
“It doesn’t work in here, I’m sorry,” Stutes replied. “You can have a choice if you want to stay, we have a mask for you.”
It’s at that point that the video, recorded, posted and later deleted by Reinbold, cuts out. Like with Monday’s Senate Floor session and Senate budget subcommittee, Reinbold left the meetings rather than don the mask that everyone else in the building has been wearing for the last 50 days of session. Many observers have long pointed out that Reinbold’s transparent plastic face shield does not meet the Legislature’s rules for CDC-compliant masking, which requires cloth masks that limit the spread of breath droplets that can carry the virus, but the Senate leadership has refused to take action until this week following an outbreak of covid-19 (that was not linked to Reinbold).
While Senate President Peter Micciche declined to directly identify Reinbold in a statement concerning her departure from the floor, Anchorage Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof, who chairs the budget subcommittee, told the Anchorage Daily News plainly that “She wasn’t wearing a CDC-approved mask. … We had a big outbreak last week. It’s important to protect everybody and get on top of (covid).”
Members of the House Health and Social Services Committee weren’t shy about confronting Reinbold when she first entered the room, either.
“I’ve noticed my friend from Eagle River has joined us,” said Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, “and I would just ask that she wear a mask that’s compliant with LAA policy if she’s going to remain in the room.”
The House Health and Social Services Committee would later vote to advance legislation needed to extend a limited form of public health disaster aimed at bolstering the state’s handling of spot outbreaks, vaccine distribution, testing at airports and other measures like telehealth services. The state has been without a disaster declaration since Feb. 14, creating particular problems around airport testing and telehealth, which has seen some Outside providers halt services to the state. Legislators like Reinbold claimed that measures like telehealth could and should be addressed through separate legislation, but no such legislation has been brought forward.
In a post accompanying the video, Reinbold took credit for the expiration of the state’s disaster declaration.
“In the Senate I helped disable identical bill SB56, which helped Alaska become the first state in the nation, to not have a disaster declaration. Shockingly, I was directed to leave by Speaker Stutes escorted by Rep Egemon with Security present,” she said. “I was innocently watching the House committee proceedings.”