JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate voted on Wednesday to allow its leaders to exclude Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, from the state Capitol and most in-person legislative activities because of repeated refusals to follow precautions against COVID-19.
Immediately after the vote, Reinbold attempted to convene a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which she chairs. The Senate secretary and Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, withdrew all staff from the meeting.
“This meeting is canceled,” he told Reinbold, who sat in the chairman’s seat, filming Micciche with her cellphone.
Reinbold can still participate in committee meetings by phone and she can cast votes from a spot in the Senate’s spectator gallery, Micciche said.
Reinbold declined to vote from the gallery on Wednesday, instead asking to be listed as excused absent.
Reinbold has been a critic of anti-COVID-19 measures in Alaska and the Capitol. Earlier this year, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said her criticism had crossed the line into misinformation and deception.
Rules approved before the Legislature convened this year require legislators, staff and members of the media to be tested for COVID-19 twice per week and undergo daily temperature and symptom checks.
On Wednesday, Micciche said Reinbold has ignored those checks and testing requirements. Instead of wearing a face mask in line with CDC recommendations, she wears a loose-fitting transparent plastic face shield.
Reinbold said she took a COVID-19 test outside of the normal procedure and tested negative, but Micciche and other senators said she has not provided any proof of that test or the result.
“It could be a note from her doctor,” he said.
“We’ve given every special treatment option possible, and we’re still willing to work with her,” he said, adding that he still considers her a member of the Senate majority and she is still chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, told the Senate that the time has come for “decisive action.”
“We have reached the point where it must be dealt with. We can no longer in good conscience ignore it,” he said of Reinbold’s behavior.
Micciche and Stevens said the Capitol is still experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19. That outbreak has been more severe than previously revealed.
At the peak of the outbreak, Micciche said 27 people were either infected or in quarantine. As of Wednesday morning, five people remained infected, and one of those five has been hospitalized, Micciche said. Those numbers had not been disclosed to the public until Wednesday.
Reinbold declined to comment after Wednesday’s floor session, but while attempting to start the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, she said, “This is all silly.”
In a string of Facebook posts on her senatorial page, Reinbold said she believes the Legislature’s rules are being arbitrarily applied to her and violate her privacy.
“My actions are to protect my constitutional rights, including civil liberties and those who I represent, even under immense pressure and public scrutiny,” one post said in part.
Wednesday’s action follows a string of escalating events. On Monday, Reinbold was asked on the Senate floor and in a subcommittee to wear a mask instead of her face shield. After being asked, she left both events.
On Tuesday, she was asked to wear a mask instead of a face shield while attending a House committee meeting. She was escorted out of that meeting after being asked by the speaker of the House and the House Rules Committee chairman to wear a mask.