North Pole Rep. Mike Prax was one of eight lawmakers diagnosed with Covid-19 Wednesday in an outbreak that has swept through the Alaska House.
Prax said he is in quarantine for the rest of the week and not attending hearings as he recovers from Covid-19. He described his symptoms as mild.
A total of 24 people, including lawmakers and staff members at the Capitol, have tested positive for Covid-19, which led to House floor sessions canceled.
The House expects to reconvene Monday, when the fiscal 2023 state budget will reach the floor, according to the House Speaker’s Office.
“The plan was to read the budget across the floor at the beginning of the week, but that will be delayed until our next floor session on Monday,” House Speaker Louise Stutes said Wednesday.
Stutes canceled floor sessions over concerns about the virus after some lawmakers refused to wear masks. The Senate has continued to meet.
“In light of the continued refusal of a few representatives to follow the temporary mask requirement on the House floor while we try to manage an active Covid outbreak in the building, floor sessions are cancelled until next week,” Stutes said Wednesday.
Prax said he does not object to wearing a mask at floor sessions and in committee meetings.
“It isn’t that I think they are that effective, but if the clerks and other staff members feel safer with masks, I am happy to accommodate them until this outbreak subsides,” Prax said.
The Republican lawmaker, however, expressed concerns about delays in important House business, including adopting the new state spending plan.
“The House Finance Committee has completed their work on the operating budget bill, but it has not been ‘read across’ on the floor of the House, so work on the budget is currently at a standstill,” Prax said.
Fairbanks Rep. Bart LeBon, who fully recovered from a mild case of Covid-19 in February, said Wednesday that he had hoped the House could meet this week on the fiscal 2023 budget.
“I wish we could have been meeting this week to consider amendments to the FY23 budget, but the decision to meet is made by the House Speaker so, in that sense, I am just along for the ride,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Alaska House Republican Caucus expressed frustration over the delay and the masking mandate.
Trey Watson, communications director, said the caucus refuses to “coerce” members into complying with Covid health policies imposed in the House.
“As we’ve seen, [the] floor session has been abruptly adjourned or canceled for the last three days. This has delayed the consideration of the budget by an additional week, beyond the two-week delay the Majority has already caused,” Watson said.
“Members of the House Minority are understandably frustrated, regardless of their personal stance on the Speaker’s newest mask mandate,” Watson said.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.