Alaska Senate moves toward rejecting some of Gov. Dunleavy’s 12 executive orders

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, exits the Senate chamber after a floor session on Jan. 29, 2024. (Eric Stone/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska Senate is working on nixing several of the dozen executive orders Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued earlier this year. The orders are mostly related to restructuring or eliminating various boards or commissions, and they’re set to become law unless the Legislature votes them down by mid-March.

Senate committees have moved quickly to examine the 12 orders, said Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

“We’ve never seen so many, in my experience, at one time,” he said. “We’re going through them very methodically, one at a time, making sure that they go through our committees.”

The Dunleavy administration says the executive orders are efforts to eliminate inefficiencies in government and enhance accountability, but senators have heard public opposition to many of the orders as they’ve moved through committees.

Several people speaking out against them have said the boards Dunleavy wants to eliminate provide important public input to ensure that a variety of perspectives are heard.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said that’s been a worry for his constituents.

“I think the theme is a concentration of power that many people are concerned with,” Wielechowski said.

One order that drew particular interest would eliminate the management council for Wood-Tikchik State Park in Southwest Alaska.

The board includes representatives of the governor’s administration, plus members of local governments and tribal groups. Wood-Tikchik is the only state park with such a management council, and the council’s chair, Cody Larson, said its structure is key to maintaining community buy-in.

“We can only move at the speed of trust,” Larson told the committee.

Others pushed back against orders eliminating the Susitna Basin Recreation Rivers Advisory Board and the advisory council for the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in Haines. Another order would give the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game the authority to regulate the “live capture, possession, transport, or release of native or exotic game or their eggs.”

That’s currently the prerogative of the Board of Game, and Fairbanks-based wildlife biologist Michael Spindler told the committee that the board should retain that authority.

“Without proper research, there’s a risk that a newly introduced species could threaten our valuable native game mammals and fisheries with excessive competition, disease or parasites,” he said. “The current Board of Game process involves multiple individuals with varying perspectives and in-depth qualifications.”

Opposition to the four orders heard in the Senate Resources Committee was voluminous. Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage and co-chair of the committee, said her committee received a three-inch-thick stack of written comments on the four orders in addition to public testimony.

Over in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, midwives, barbers and masseuses spoke out against executive orders that would absorb their licensing boards into the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

Committee chair Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, said he was listening.

“It’s my desire to represent the interests of my constituents on the Kenai Peninsula who hold those professions and who have overwhelmingly expressed concern about the state government chloroforming their boards, which provide them a professional voice in crafting regulations that govern their professions,” he said.

Some executive orders were not the subject of much opposition, though. That includes an order eliminating the Criminal Justice Information Advisory Board, which has met only five times since 2014 and last got together half a decade ago. Another that would absorb the Alaska Council on EMS into the Department of Health also found some support from EMS professionals who said the structure of the board was outdated.

One of the orders would separate the boards of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and the Alaska Energy Authority. Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, said it’s an idea lawmakers have kicked around in the past, but he said it should have come to the Legislature as a bill, not a unilateral order.

“That’s sort of the process that this legislative body is used to seeing when it comes to it, not just splashing a dozen executive orders at us at the beginning of the legislative session,” he said.

And one executive order hasn’t yet been heard at all in either the House or Senate. It would allow the governor to appoint all members of a board that advises the Alaska Marine Highway System. It’s scheduled for its first hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee on Feb. 20, and public testimony is slated for Feb. 22

To prevent the orders from taking effect would require a majority vote in a joint session of the Legislature, and Stevens, the Senate president, said he plans to hold an up-or-down vote on all 12. But that means the House would have to vote to invite the Senate to a joint session, and Stevens said that’s no sure bet.

“We can’t force the House to meet with us. The only way we can, we can uphold or overturn the governor’s — I guess, overturn the governor’s executive orders — is by a meeting, a joint meeting, of the House and Senate. So we’re hoping the House moves ahead,” Stevens said.

Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, the House Rules Committee chair, said the leaders of both bodies need to work out the details, but he said the House was open to calling a joint session.

“I don’t think there’s any reluctance to do that,” Johnson said.

Stevens says he expects to discuss the prospect of a joint session with the House speaker the week of Feb. 19.

Eric Stone covers state government, tracking the Alaska Legislature, state policy and its impact on all Alaskans. Reach him at

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