by Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky
February 28, 2020
Dear friends + neighbors,
I’m not sure about you, but this week has gotten away from me! The halls of the Capitol were again buzzing with numerous legislative fly-ins, including Close Up, the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, and AARP. The FY21 operating budget continues its movement through the House and standing committees are fully immersed in policy work. I’m proud to send another update your way about what’s happening in Alaska’s capital city.
Special Committee on Tribal Affairs
Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act
On Tuesday, the Tribal Affairs Committee focused on the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) and how it has laid the groundwork for successful contracting and compacting between Tribes and the Federal government. I would like to thank Rebecca Patterson, from the law firm Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry for sharing her expertise in Indian law and what considerations should be made as Alaska explores State-Tribal compacting.
Equity in rural Alaska
This week, Tribal Affairs also explored policy and funding equity between urban and rural Alaska through the lens of existing case law on education funding in our state. Howard Trickey, an attorney with Holland & Knight who successfully argued Kasayulie v. State, described the historic funding issues related to urban/rural school construction.
Prior to Kasayulie v. State, school construction in urban parts of the State were fully funded in annual state budgets while grants aimed at meeting rural school infrastructure needs received no funding.
We also heard testimony from Barbara Wáahlaal Gidáak Blake, Director of the Alaska Native Policy Center at First Alaskans Institute, who spoke about implicit bias and current day examples of policy equity tribes often face.
An interesting takeaway from this hearing, that I hope resonates in the Capitol, is the wisdom that lawsuits polarize Alaskans and are not an ideal forum to resolve equity disparities – as courtrooms are adversarial in nature.
Health and Social Services Committee
Coalition on Housing and Homelessness
On Tuesday, it was wonderful to have friends from home, members of the Bethel Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, present to the Health and Social Services Committee about their important work. Jon Cochrane (Bethel Winter House), Michelle DeWitt (Bethel Community Services Foundation), Ariel Herman (Bethel Housing and Homelessness Coalition) and Eileen Arnold (Tundra Women’s Coalition) shared an update on their efforts to help Alaskans in the Bethel area who may be without permanent housing.
In 2019, Bethel’s coalition gathered a significant amount of data on our community’s homeless population, which will help inform future decision making on how best to serve our friends and neighbors. This is truly a labor of love for these generous coalition volunteers, who do this work in addition to their full-time jobs. I was proud to help highlight the trails Bethel’s coalition has been blazing on rural homelessness issues.
On Wednesday, the Education Committee heard HB 236, which would increase the base student allocation (BSA) through 2022. As a result of inflation, the State currently spends roughly the same per student as it did in 1988. I asked the sponsor, Representative Andi Story of Juneau, to consider incorporating an amendment that would inflation-proof the BSA.
We also continued to hear HB 181, which would require the Department of Education to develop guidelines for mental health curriculum that can be taught in public schools. I advanced amendments that require the Department to consult with regional tribal health organizations in the development of curriculum and to put forward the resultant curriculum within two years of the bill’s approval. The bill was passed out of committee, and on to its next committee of referral, today.
Budget Amendments Supporting Our District
On Thursday, I spoke before the House Finance Committee about two budget amendments that would support District 38.
The first budget amendment seeks to address the life, health and safety of Alaskans in Quinhagak by offering maintenance funds for the local airport. In recent years, permafrost degradation has resulted in dips and bumps on the runway surface and has contributed to failure of the permanent runway lighting system. This has resulted in the inability for airplanes to land at night and only during limited visibility daylight hours.
Out of concern for the health and safety of the community, the Tribe, Association of Village Council Presidents, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation and the City of Quinhagak have passed resolutions asking the State of Alaska to consider re-acquiring the airport from the Tribe who has indicated readiness to divest ownership. In a meeting on February 19th, the Department of Transportation indicated $90,000 could assist in facilitating the process to consider acquiring the airport. If this issue is not resolved, since air is the only viable, year-round mode of transport for the people of Quinhagak, it could lead to health and safety emergencies for the community.
I would like to thank Representatives Foster, Knopp, Johnston, Ortiz, and LeBon for their support of this essential funding, and would particularly like to extend my thanks to Representative Andy Josephson for offering the amendment on my behalf.
The second budget amendment offers maintenance funding for the Kuskokwim ice road. Currently, the Native Village of Napaimute provides the entire portion of its Federal Tribal transportation dollars to plow and maintain the drivability of the Kuskokwim river, easing regional transportation needs during the winter.
This amendment provides $50,000 in one-time funding for the maintenance of the Kuskokwim ice road, which runs about 355 miles from Tuntutuliak to Sleetmute and connects at least 11,000 people and more than 15 communities. The ice road is frequented by state vehicles, including the Alaska State Troopers, during inclement flying conditions and is critical for Alaskans in the YK Delta to travel from community to community.
I would like to thank the Finance Committee for unanimously adopting the amendment and would again like to particularly thank Representative Josephson for introducing this amendment on my behalf.
Both budget items have a long way to go, but this is a great first step.
Lunch and Learn: To Keep As One
This Tuesday, I hosted my first legislative Lunch & Learn. We had a screening of the film To Keep As One, which follows the family of Albertina Charles in their experience relocating from Newtok to Mertarvik. Katie Basile, director and producer of the film, Michelle DeWitt, Executive Director of Bethel Community Services Foundation, Paul Charles, a representative from the Newtok Village Council, and Joel Neimeyer, former co-chair of the Denali Commission, joined us and answered questions after the film. We were also joined telephonically by Gavin Dixon from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Sam Berlin, a radio host and Yup’ik interpreter at KYUK.
It was an incredible opportunity to humanize the impacts of climate change, imminently threatening numerous Alaska communities.
Protecting Alaska Native Sisters
I was proud to spend a great deal of time during the 2019 session working to elevate the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. This week, in partnership with stakeholders, I introduced HB 277, a bill aimed at addressing that crisis and improving public safety for Alaska Native Women, who are over-represented in victimization statistics. One of my top priorities in the Legislature has been to make the YK Delta, and rural Alaska as a whole, a safer place to live. Addressing the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women is an important element of that effort.
Friends + Constituents in the office
I had a great meeting with Calista Corporation representatives (L-R) Dora Moore, Andrew Guy, Robert Beans, and Willie Kasayulie. They spoke about the unique transportation needs of our district and the importance of passing HB 221, bringing State recognition of Alaska’s federally-recognized tribes. It was wonderful to identify alignment on a number of issues we are both working on that are in the best interest of the YK Delta. Quyana for your visit Calista!
Tundra Women’s Coalition
This week I got to meet with Eileen Arnold, Executive Director of Tundra Women’s Coalition (TWC). TWC has expanded their bed count from 33 to 40 beds this year. The organization was also granted nearly $4 million dollars from the Office of Victims of Crime, for a three-year period. This grant will provide education, rape kits, and trauma nurses to six sub-regional clinics. This year TWC offered 10,883 total shelter nights and have calculated 626 community volunteer hours! Quyana TWC for your important work!
If you are in the Bethel area and need assistance, TWC is located at 248 6th Ave. The 24-hour crisis line is 1-800-478-7799 or 907-543-3456.
Close Up with Students from Atmautluak
It was such a treat to visit with Close Up students, Kiyasha Nicholai (Joann Alexie Memorial School), Leandra Nick (Joann Alexie Memorial School), and Stefan Askoak (Russian Mission) this week. I shared with them the joys and challenges of working in the legislature. It always brightens my day to visit with vibrant young students from the District!
This week I offered an update on Alaska’s preparedness for the coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) on the House Floor and what all Alaskans can do to protect themselves from all types of respiratory illnesses.
Elizabeth Peratrovich $1 Coins are here!
The new 2020 Native American $1 Coin design features Elizabeth Peratrovich and Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Law. The coins are now in circulation and you can visit the U.S. Mint website to learn more.
Language Resources for 2020 Census
Along with voting, the Census is one of our most important civic duties as Americans and Alaskans. Accurate Census data determines voting districts, as well as the amount of federal money made available to our communities for health, housing, transportation and several other services. Be counted!
Alaska Counts has translated Census materials into various Alaska Native languages. Yup’ik language guides and PSAs are available.
Indian Country Counts
Applications for the second round of Census 2020 Community Grants is now open! Indian Country Counts is National Congress of American Indians’ initiative to encourage all American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) to complete the 2020 Census. A second wave of community grants for community events and efforts in support of the 2020 Census are now available from Indian Country Counts.
Visit Us in Juneau!
If you will be in Juneau, please come visit me at the Capitol! Contact my office to schedule a time to stop in to say hello. Also, if you are visiting on a day we have floor session, I would be thrilled to introduce you on the House Floor!
I would love to hear from you if you have a suggestion for a legislative citation of importance to District 38!
What is a citation? It is an official document expressing commendation, condolences, appreciation or congratulations to an individual or group.
There are two types of citations:
“Honorarium” recognizes a person, organization, or special occasion. “In Memorium” honors someone who has recently passed away.
Please feel free to call or e-mail my office if you have any questions.
Contact me or my staff:
Office of Representative Tiffany Zulkosky
Alaska House District 38
Alaska State Capitol, Room 416
Juneau, Alaska 99801