JUNEAU (AP) — The Alaska Senate passed legislation Friday intended to help address staffing concerns at medical facilities, hours after the bill failed to win sufficient support following the adoption of vaccine-related provisions some saw as hindering public health efforts during the pandemic.
Senate President Peter Micciche recessed the floor session shortly after the failed 9-8 vote, and the bill was taken up on reconsideration when the session resumed late Friday afternoon. It advanced on the second vote, 13-3. The bill needed at least 11 votes to pass.
Sen. Gary Stevens, a Republican who voted no the first time and yes the second, said the bill passed "with the understanding" the amendments would be taken out when the House gets the bill. "And we'll see, we'll see if they are," he said.
Micciche told reporters said he worked to get senators to move the bill to the next step in the process. The Republican said he had not spoken to anyone in the House about the bill.
"The Senate does what the Senate does. The House does what the House does, and sometimes we agree on the differences," he said.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced the bill in response to concerns from the health care community amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.
One amendment adopted during floor debate Friday would allow a person to object to a COVID-19 vaccine "based on religious, medical, or other grounds" and says a person could not be required to provide supporting justification or documentation. Another says businesses or state agencies can't require individuals to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for individuals to access areas or services that are open to the public.
Those two amendments, from Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold, passed narrowly. Reinbold said she was pleased the provisions were included.
Several senators expressed concerns with the amendments. Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich said he was among those who changed his vote on the bill from no to yes to support moving it through the process.
He said he would work with House colleagues to remove more "egregious" provisions, such as those related to vaccine objections. The language he has concerns with "says, if you're unvaccinated, hell, just be unvaccinated, you don't have to show anybody anything," he said.
Begich, a Democrat, said that's a concern amid widespread COVID-19 transmission.