The Senate took unprecedented action today with an overwhelming vote allowing Senate President Peter Micciche to bar extreme-right covid-denying Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold entry to the Alaska State Capitol until she starts following the Legislature’s health protocols.
Reinbold has refused to follow the Legislature’s health protocols that require everyone to wear CDC-approved cloth masks in all common spaces, be tested twice per week and have their temperature checked upon entry to the building. During debate on the motion, Senate Rules Committee chairman Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said there have been six positive cases in the capitol since an outbreak two weeks ago and one person is currently hospitalized.
“The reason for these policies is to protect legislators and staff. All 59 legislators and all staff have complied. Only one is not wearing an approved mask, going through testing or submitting to temperature and questions on entering the building. This is a concern for all of us,” he said, reminding legislators that they are each employers responsible for ensuring the safety of those who work for them. “Staff have expressed fear and some have talked about early retirement.”
The actions follow three incidents over two days where legislators’ patience with Reinbold—who has worn a plastic face shield instead of the mask for the duration of session—has run out. She was asked to either mask up or leave the Senate floor and budget subcommittee on Monday. Things escalated on Tuesday when Reinbold sat in on a House committee meeting before House Speaker Louise Stutes, Rules Committee chair Rep. Bryce Edgmon and a security officer asked Reinbold to either mask up or leave the room. In all three cases, Reinbold left but not after delaying business. Even today’s floor session was delayed and at one point was cleared out when Reinbold rushed onto the floor to sit in her normal seat.
While Reinbold claimed in a post that she was “innocently” watching the House hearing, Stevens called the run-in with the House “embarrassing” for the Senate.
“This misbehavior has not only taken up the Senate’s time but now also the other body. We have reached the point where it must be dealt with. We can no longer, in good conscience, ignore it,” he said. “Frankly, it is embarrassing that in the other body the speaker, the rules chair and building security were forced last night to enforce the rules on one of our members who was blatantly ignoring safety procedures.”
Stevens said the Senate has tried to accommodate Reinbold by providing her compliant masks, allowing her to bypass testing if she could provide proof of a negative test (which he said she never provided) and have allowed her to bypass temperature testing because she claimed she was late for a meeting.
“We can no longer abide the behavior. We have tried to dissuade her, offer her easier ways out than we have offered others all to no avail,” he said. “The time has come for decisive action, none of us want to take it but we must for the safety of all of us.”
The motion doesn’t directly ban Reinbold from accessing the building but grants Senate President Micciche the power to exclude a senator from the building if they are not following the Legislature’s rules. Stevens, who is the Senate Rules Committee chair, said it is a difficult course of action to take and unprecedented in his 21-year experience with the Legislature. He said she can come back if she chooses to change her behavior.
“How can a senator return to the building? It’s amazingly simple. Do what everyone else is doing,” he said. “One, wear an approved mask as all the rest of us are doing. Two, test twice a week as all of us in this building are now doing. Three, have your temperature taken as you enter the building as all of us are now doing.”
Reinbold’s two closest allies in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Shelley Hughes and Sen. Mike Shower, were initially the lone two votes against today’s action. Hughes changed her vote, saying that the constitution directs legislators to follow the building’s rules and “It’s our duty to change the rules if we don’t like them.”