The Alaska Senate voted 17-1 to remove Republican Eagle River Sen. Lora Reinbold as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.
Senate President Peter Micciche did not cite any specific instances of rules Senator Reinbold violated in explaining the change.
“This is entirely based on decorum and the mutual respect that’s expected as we operate in this building,” he said.
Micciche, a Soldotna Republican, says Reinbold would be restored to her position as chair if she observes the rules regarding decorum and treats others with respect, like other senators do.
Reinbold has repeatedly clashed with other lawmakers over her violating COVID-19 safety rules requiring facemasks and rapid coronavirus tests, but Micciche says the action was “essentially unrelated” to Reinbold’s violations of the safety rules.
Reinbold addressed her colleagues before they voted.
“Today’s actions on the floor severely violate and possibly sever an agreement that Republicans came together on,” she said. “Removing me as judiciary chair is a very serious move.”
She said she was willing to work on “legitimate concerns.”
“I received no formal complaints by members, no formal written concerns from leadership or members that have been brought before me, and given me an opportunity to address,” she said.
She was the only vote against the change, which she described as “un-American.”
She remains a member of the majority caucus. The majority leader, Palmer Republican Senator Shelley Hughes, says she hopes Reinbold makes changes.
“This is temporary,” she said. “We care deeply about Lora. I truly mean it when I say I love her like a sister. She’s our colleague. She’s our friend. And this is intended to be temporary. And it’s really in her lap right now how she’d like to proceed.”
Gov. Mike Dunleavy sent Reinbold a letter earlier this session saying the administration would no longer respond to her as the Judiciary Committee chair. In the letter, he said she had spread misinformation about the administration’s response to the pandemic.
Reinbold has called for the governor to retract the letter and apologize. Some of his appointees later met with the committee for their confirmation hearings.
Reinbold asserts that the governor’s office is responsible for her being removed from her position, but Micciche and other leaders say the decision has nothing to do with the administration.
At one point, Senate leaders barred her from most of the Capitol building, citing her failure to comply with COVID-19 safety requirements to wear a facemask and undergo rapid coronavirus tests. While she started to comply with the rules, she was later fined for another violation.
Another conflict occurred during a Senate Health and Social Services Committee meeting on Thursday, during which Reinbold did not comply with the mask requirement. She said she told a nonpartisan committee aide that if they were concerned about it, then perhaps they consider not working in a job close to others.
Wasilla Republican Sen. David Wilson says that he and others in the room interpreted Reinbold’s comments as threatening the aide’s job. Wilson is the committee chair. He says he told Reinbold that if she continued to disrupt committee meetings and prevent the Senate from doing its business, he would request a special resolution that could lead to Reinbold being expelled from the Legislature.
She didn’t immediately change her approach to the rules.
Hours after the floor vote, Reinbold held a news conference in front of the Senate chamber. She didn’t wear a mask. Micciche arrived and told Reinbold she could not be in the hallway without a mask, adding that there are people who work in the Capitol who are at risk.
“Please put your mask on if you want to continue your press conference,” he said. “Or you will be escorted to your office.”
Reinbold then moved the news conference to her office, where she defended her work with the Judiciary Committee this year.
While Reinbold lost her seat on the Judiciary Committee, she retained her positions as vice chair of the Legislative Council and a member of the Senate Health and Social Services Committee.
Anchorage Republican Senator Roger Holland replaced Reinbold as both a member and chair of the Judiciary Committee.
This story has been updated.