Alaska legislators are moving to reject some of Dunleavy’s executive orders

By: James Brooks, Alaska Beacon

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy delivers the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. Behind him are Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and Speaker of the House Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

The Alaska Senate moved quickly on Monday to take the first formal steps needed to reject some or all of the 12 executive orders Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued at the start of this year’s legislative session.

Lawmakers in the Senate introduced 12 resolutions of disapproval Monday morning, and hours later, the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee approved three of them. Those three resolutions would preserve the boards that govern massage therapists, barbers and hairdressers, and midwives. The other resolutions have been referred to other committees.

The governor proposed dissolving some state boards and changing some agency rules in order to improve efficiency, his office said. Since the initial proposal, people affected by the changes have been urging legislators to reject many of the ideas.

On their own, the actions taken Monday don’t stop the governor’s proposed actions — doing so requires a vote in a joint session of House and Senate before mid-March — but Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said that Monday’s maneuvers are intended to get ready for what he now sees as an inevitable referendum on the governor’s actions.

“My goal is to make sure each and every one gets heard,” he said, “subject to an up or down vote.”

He suggested that there’s tentative agreement between the House and Senate to call a joint session, but House Rules Committee Chair Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said that “agreement might be a strong term.”

Speaker of the House Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said the House majority caucus hasn’t come to any decisions on supporting a joint session, but “I believe that at this particular time … that there are some concerns with a few of (the executive orders), and I will have some conversations with the administration.”

Asked to specify, Tilton said, “the midwifery board seems to be one that brings people together with concern.”

Alaska has only about 40 licensed “direct-entry midwives,” childbirth experts who aren’t nurses or doctors, but they delivered about 6% of Alaska’s births in 2022, according to the state’s annual statistical report

The governor’s proposal calls for dissolving the board governing those midwives, and would turn over the board’s responsibility to staff at the Department of Health. 

That’s drawn alarm from licensees and others who deal with childbirth in the state; they’ve testified against the proposal during legislative hearings.

“That’s predominantly what we’re hearing,” said Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski and chair of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.

He said he expects that the Legislature will act on the public’s request for a vote.

“We’ll meet in joint session and hear all of the executive orders and vote them up or down,” he said.