Airline Seeks Dismissal Of Lawsuit Over Masks

By James Brooks

Alaska Beacon

Alaska’s leading airline has responded to a lawsuit from a former state senator, saying the legal claim “contains multiple deficiencies,” and asked a federal judge in Anchorage to dismiss it.

Former state Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, sued Alaska Airlines in April, saying the airline violated her constitutional rights when it banned her from its planes after she confronted airline officials in Juneau over the company’s policy on face masks intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Reinbold also claims the airline caused her stress and humiliation, and asked a federal judge to award damages.

In a formal response filed Tuesday with Alaska District Court Judge Joshua Kindred, attorneys representing the airline said Reinbold’s antipathy toward mask rules is evident, as is her hostility toward federal rules pertaining to travel during the pandemic, but the language of her complaint “leaves nearly everything else about her lawsuit to conjecture and surmise.”

Reinbold is representing herself in the suit, and she lists eight airline officials, as well as the company itself, in her complaint. 

But the document doesn’t list which alleged violations of federal law apply to which person, meaning Reinbold hasn’t made a legally actionable complaint, the airline’s attorneys said.

“Plaintiff has failed to state any legally actionable claims against any of the defendants,” they wrote.

Furthermore, they said, the company’s actions were justified by federal orders in place at the time. Those rules required masking.

Alaska Airlines banned the then-senator from its planes in April 2021 after multiple arguments with company employees and complaints from passengers who said they were made uncomfortable when Reinbold removed her mask in flight.

“Plaintiff was entitled to her personal views about COVID-19,” the airline’s attorneys wrote. “She was not, however, empowered to invoke her personal notions to evade or disregard federally mandated requirements for air travel that applied to all other Alaska Airlines guests during a worldwide pandemic.”

Alaska Airlines was the only airline operating regularly scheduled passenger service between Juneau and Anchorage in April 2021, and Reinbold’s complaint states that she had a “constitutional and statutory right to have access to flights of Alaska Airlines to fly to and from Juneau.”

The company’s attorneys disagreed, saying that there is no fundamental right to travel by airplane, even when it is the most convenient mode of travel. 

“As for intrastate travel, it is unclear whether any such right is Constitutionally safeguarded at all,” the company’s attorneys stated. “As the Ninth Circuit recently explained, the Supreme Court has cast doubt on the right to intrastate travel.”

Reinbold did not return a phone call seeking comment on Wednesday. Robert Richmond, an attorney representing Alaska Airlines, declined comment.



Dunleavy Picks Babcock For UA Board of Regents

By James Brooks

Alaska Beacon

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has appointed Tuckerman Babcock, a longtime Republican and former aide, to the University of Alaska Board of Regents. Babcock, together with the governor, orchestrated an illegal loyalty pledge scheme, a federal judge ruled two years ago.

The governor’s office announced Babcock’s appointment late Wednesday after the Alaska Legislature rejected a prior pick for the office. Lawmakers failed to confirm Bethany Marcum to the 11-person board in May.

Several sitting legislators said they believe Babcock is unlikely to be confirmed by the Legislature when it meets next spring. 

In Dunleavy’s first year, Babcock was a supporter of the governor’s plan to sharply cut spending on state services, including the university. Marcum’s support for those cuts in 2019 was cited as a reason for her failed confirmation this year.

Whether or not he is confirmed, Babcock will sit as a member of the board in the meantime, participating in the university’s annual budgeting process and debates on policies.

“Tuckerman’s experience serving in numerous statewide government positions and 10 years in business management makes him a great fit for the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents,” Dunleavy said in a prepared statement. “I am grateful for his continued service and commitment to the state of Alaska. I am confident that Tuckerman’s expert knowledge of public service and leadership will continue to help Alaska for the better.”

 During his time as Dunleavy’s chief of staff, Babcock was found to have illegally fired three state employees as part of an illegal loyalty pledge scheme. 

The state agreed to pay almost half a million dollars to two Alaska Psychiatric Institute doctors to resolve a lawsuit stemming from the scheme. A separate case, involving former state attorney Libby Bakalar, is scheduled for a damages trial later this year.

Babcock ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2022, losing to fellow Republican Jesse Bjorkman in the race to replace Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna. He previously served as head of the Alaska Republican Party and as a member of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.



State School Proposal Targets Trans Athletes

By James Brooks

Alaska Beacon

The state of Alaska is proceeding with plans to limit transgender students’ ability to participate in sports and activities.

On June 8, the state board of education will consider a regulation that would bar transgender student-athletes from participating in school sports and activities under their gender identity. It would limit students to either multi-gender sports teams or “a separate team for each sex with participation based on a student’s sex assigned at birth.”

The meeting was announced in a public notice published Sunday.

The board’s June 8 decision is unlikely to be final: The board will be voting only on whether or not to advance the proposal to a 30-day public comment period. A yes vote means the board would consider public comment, then approve, reject or amend the regulation at its next public meeting. A “no” vote could kill the idea, at least temporarily.

“Right now, the board is going to vote on whether or not to put these out for public comment,” said Heidi Teshner, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

“We will always take all public comment into consideration,” she said.

The publicly posted agenda says the draft regulation is still subject to review and approval by the Alaska Department of Law, but Teshner said she expects no substantive changes between what’s online and what will be considered at the meeting.

Twenty-one states bar transgender students from participating in sports or other activities under their preferred gender identities, and various state school sports organizations have issued a variety of rules nationwide.

For the past three years, the Alaska Legislature has failed to pass a bill that would set statewide policy on the topic.

Nationally, supporters of these rules have said that women’s sports would be harmed by the participation of transgender athletes. Transgender rights advocates disagree, and have said that athletes should be able to participate in sports that conform with their identities.

The draft regulation under consideration by the state school board cites a state law that requires equal opportunity for male and female athletes and says that the board should consider procedures on an annual basis to implement that law.

In March, the school board approved a resolution asking the Department of Education to draft a regulation like the one that is now on its June agenda. 

That resolution referred only to girls sports; the new proposed regulation refers to both boys and girls teams.

Current rules in place by the Alaska School Activities Association, in charge of regulating school sports here, allow individual districts to set policies. 

ASAA considered but rejected a statewide policy earlier this month, saying that it would await regulatory action by the state.

The department’s proposed regulation doesn’t say how it would be enforced. Teshner said that would be an issue left to the discretion of ASAA or another, similar organization regulating the sport or activity.

Sen. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage, is an outspoken opponent of the new proposal and said that when she learned about it from the Beacon on Tuesday, it was “very much expected,” given prior actions by the board.

Teshner informed Tobin and other legislators in April that drafting work was underway.

She and other lawmakers have questioned the legality of the plan, saying that it could amount to the department adopting regulations without legislative authority.

She also said that forcing students to provide medical records or undergo physical exams to fulfill the regulation is a violation of their right to privacy, something enshrined in the Alaska Constitution.

“There’s so many questions I have — particularly when we get to some of the smaller schools,” she said, “not to mention, the stigmatization and the continued demonization of a group of really vulnerable young kids.”



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At a Glance

(updated 5-30-2023)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 12:15 pm Tuesday, May 30.

New cases as of Tuesday: 165

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 298,078

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,468

Case Rate per 100,000 – 22.64

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 58.70

Cases in last 7 days – 5

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,424

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






June 2003

After taking an opening-day lead in the Sitka Salmon Derby last Saturday, Mike Bagley wondered how long his 47.6-pound king salmon would remain the top fish. When the derby closed Sunday night, Bagley was declared the winner. ... Kathy Miller was runner-up with a 45.7-pound fish; Craig Taylor third with a 43.6 pounder; and Joe Mudry fourth at 40 pounds.



June 1973

Some 35 high-ranking foreign diplomats will be in Sitka Saturday, part of a statewide tour. ... The New Archangel Dancers will perform for the group at the Centennial Building.