Alaska Legislature rejects 8 of governor's 12 executive orders

Mar. 13—JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature on Tuesday rejected eight of 12 executive orders issued by Gov. Mike Dunleavy earlier this year, in a rebuke of the governor's broad use of executive power.

Most of the orders sought to eliminate a variety of public oversight boards and transfer powers to members of the governor's administration. The governor said in statements attached to many of the orders that they were needed in the "interests of efficient administration."

Lawmakers' actions come as they face down an ultimatum issued by Dunleavy, who has threatened he will veto a broad education funding bill passed by lawmakers unless they pass some of his education priorities by the end of the day Thursday.

Senate President Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican who opposed most of the governor's orders, said the Legislature had never before considered overturning so many executive orders in a single session. Dunleavy's 12 executive orders accounted for almost 10% of all the executive orders issued by governors since statehood.

Some of the votes saw Dunleavy allies backing the governor's executive orders. Others saw strong opposition across the political spectrum.

After the floor session, House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said legislators had "voted their conscience." She said Dunleavy had been warned of a strong difference of opinion about several of his executive orders. Tilton said she hoped that the governor would not see Tuesday's votes as a rejection of his leadership.

"I would say that his intent is really just to streamline government, is my understanding," she said.

In response to the joint session, Jeff Turner, a spokesperson for the governor's office, said through a prepared statement that the purpose of the executive orders "was to check the growth of government and improve efficiency."

"Therefore, the Dunleavy administration will continue to forward executive orders that streamline government and make it more efficient," Turner said.

E0 124: Exotic game

Lawmakers rejected Dunleavy's order for the Department of Fish and Game to take on the responsibilities of regulating the importation of invasive species from the Board of Game, among other changes.

Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, spoke in support of the governor's order and said decisions about invasive species should be "rapid," referring to long delays that allowed for the importation of emus into Alaska. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said that the Board of Game uses a rigorous approval process for exotic game that is transparent and heavily scrutinized.

"It only takes being wrong once to have potentially devastating consequences," he said before Dunleavy's order was rejected on a 36-23 vote.

EO 125: Emergency medical services

The state Department of Health is set to take on the responsibilities of the Alaska Council on Emergency Medical Services, which advises on how to plan and implement an emergency medical services system in Alaska.

This order did not receive significant opposition from board members or the public. Legislators voted to approve the elimination of the board on a 59-0 vote.

EO 126: Wood-Tikchik State Park

Lawmakers rejected the governor's plan to eliminate the Wood-Tikchik State Park Management Council, which develops a management plan for the largest state park in the nation with input from residents of communities in the area. Boosters said the council has worked well since being established in 1978.

"It's allowed locals to have a say in any management decisions while allowing the state agencies that oversee it — primarily the Department of National Resources — to be able to take the lead on this and the future of the park," said Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, in support of the council, which was retained on a 38-21 vote.

EO 127: Board of massage therapists

Dunleavy's executive order would have transferred the regulatory role of the Board of Massage Therapists to the state Department of Commerce. It was retained on a 43-16 vote after little debate.

Boosters of the board said massage therapists have helped law enforcement identify potential human trafficking operations. Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, said the board had been "instrumental in ensuring public safety."

EO 128: AEA/AIDEA boards

Lawmakers rejected Dunleavy's executive order, which would have established a dedicated board for the Alaska Energy Authority, which currently shares a board with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

The Legislature's attorneys said the governor could reorganize the executive branch, but that order was likely unconstitutional because it would effectively create a new board in state law. The Alaska Department of Law disagreed.

Anchorage GOP Sen. Cathy Giessel said "it makes no sense" that AIDEA and AEA share the same board because "they have completely different tasks before them." But she said the order exceeded the governor's executive authority.

Legislation has advanced in the Senate to create an AEA board. Dunleavy's executive order was rejected on a 36-23 vote.

EO 129: Board of barbers

The Board of Barbers and Hairdressers also regulates tattooing, piercing and cosmetology in Alaska. It was retained in a 34-25 vote after minimal debate.

Dunleavy had proposed for the Department of Commerce to take on the board's regulatory functions, despite concerns about staffing levels at that agency. Board boosters testified that it plays a key role in regulating sectors that can potentially be dangerous.

EO 130: Board of midwives

The governor wanted to eliminate the Board of Certified Direct-Entry Midwives, and for the Department of Commerce to regulate the sector, but it was retained in a 58-1 vote.

Although there are just over 40 direct-entry midwives in Alaska, legislators reported a flood of comments opposing the proposed change. Midwives said health care professionals should regulate themselves, instead of being regulated by the commerce department.

"I cannot think of a more libertarian or conservative group than the midwives," Big Lake Republican Rep. Kevin McCabe said in support of the board.

Sitka GOP Sen. Bert Stedman was the only no vote. He consistently voted in line with Dunleavy's orders and said after the floor session that his votes were "to help streamline the government."

EO 131: Ferry board

Legislators rejected the governor's plan to reorganize the Alaska Marine Highway Board so he would appoint all of its members.

Kodiak GOP Rep. Louise Stutes was a key backer in establishing the advisory board in 2021 with legislative leaders appointing four of its nine members. She acknowledged the board had gotten off to "a rocky start," but she said it was working well now.

"Let's not take this away from Alaskans by getting a board that all thinks the same," she said.

McCabe, a supporter of Dunleavy's plan, said that the governor "deserves to have a board that supports his vision" for state ferries. But the board's current organization will stay unchanged after a 33-26 vote.

EO 132: Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

The Dunleavy administration had proposed for the council to be eliminated and for a strictly advisory board to take its place. But the council was retained on a 40-19 vote.

The Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council, like the preserve itself, was established in 1982 after years of heated debate among Haines residents. Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, said the board had played a key role in managing the preserve, getting input from a wide variety of residents.

"Doing away with this board would take away the local role, the local say, in what happens at the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve itself," Kiehl said.

EO 133: Criminal justice information

The board was eliminated with the unanimous support of state legislators.

The governor ordered the elimination of the Criminal Justice Information Advisory Board, which gives advice to state agencies on the "development and operation of the criminal justice information systems."

Sen. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, spoke in support of eliminating the board, saying that it had not met regularly.

EO 134: Recreation Rivers Board

The Recreation Rivers Advisory Board was narrowly eliminated, after lawmakers failed to overturn the governor's order in a 30-29 vote.

The board advises management of rivers in the Mat-Su. Dunleavy's order eliminates the board and transfers its roles to the Department of Natural Resources.

The governor last year fired two board members who opposed the contentious West Susitna Access Road. Echoing other Mat-Su legislators, Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, said that the board generally had an anti-development bent.

"We need jobs in our district, because that is the economic powerhouse of the state of Alaska," Shower said.

Sen. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat, said bills had been introduced multiple times in the past to eliminate the board, but none had passed. He said the governor had done an "end-run" around the legislative process with the order.

EO 135: Safety advisory council

The Alaska Safety Advisory Council was eliminated by a one-vote margin with its roles set to be transferred to the Department of Labor.

Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, said the council's main function was helping to plan the governor's annual safety conference. He said that the volunteer board helped save the state $250,000 per year.

The council was eliminated on a 30-29 vote, after failing to get the 31 yes votes needed to overturn the governor's order.