Dear Neighbors & Friends,
This has been a very busy year. Now it’s time to catch up and share more about what we’ve been working on, on your behalf, this year. Over the next few weeks we will catch up on personal legislation, constituent meetings, conferences, speaking engagements, awards, and plans for next year. We sent our end of session newsletter in September, but with limited space in the newsletter I wanted to share a bit more about my five bills that passed this session. They include extension of the statewide Suicide Prevention Council, Rape Kit Reform, recognizing the International Year of the Salmon, naming May 15th Hmong-American Veterans Day, and an economic diversification bill to increase options for farmers in Alaska.
While the big items of the budget, a long-term fiscal plan, and criminal justice reforms grabbed the headlines, we made sure to keep moving forward on our neighborhood priorities by passing these bills and getting hearings on others like HB 27 on banning harmful cancer causing chemicals and HB 28 on gender pay equity and living wages. Along with working on these measures, I’m working as hard as I can to push for a long-term fiscal plan. Unfortunately, it’s politics getting in the way of progress on a long-term plan. Please let us know if you’d like to be involved with any of these efforts! We love working with neighbors! Also, the bills I work on come from ideas from neighbors. I’m here to work for you so please get in touch so we can explore your ideas and see if a bill is possible.
Extending the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council
The Statewide Suicide Prevention Council was created a little over a decade ago to bring together multiple stakeholders to work on preventing and reducing suicide in our state. This group includes public members and legislators as ex officio members. I had the privilege of serving on the council for the last four years. I have witnessed firsthand the importance of this group, including statewide visits to behavioral health institutions, community forums on suicide prevention, drafting of the statewide suicide prevention plan, funding of primary prevention programs in our schools, training for educators on suicide prevention, and more. This small group does a lot on one of our toughest issues. The Council had a sunset date this year. When this happens the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee prepares an audit to determine if the Council is completing the statutorily required work and whether there is still a need for the group. The audit was positive on both and recommended a 7 year extension through 2027. This is great news as it allows the Council to plan for upcoming years. Senator Kawasaki and I worked together this session on the legislation to extend the sunset date to 2027. The discussions that happened included how to better support rural school districts and as such the legislature directed the Council to make sure half of the grant funds go to rural districts. This is good and one of the reasons the legislative process is so important. We hear from diverse views and hear ways to improve outcomes. The Council does such good work helping people and coordinating efforts across the state to build up protective factors and reduce risk factors that contribute to suicide. I look forward to continuing to support the good work of this group. To learn more or read the statewide suicide prevention plans (including recommendations for how you as an individual or in a group can help) please visit here: http://dhss.alaska.gov/suicideprevention/Pages/default.aspx . If you or someone you know needs to talk, please call the Careline 24 hours a day at (877) 266-HELP.
Rape Kit Reform Legislation: Adding Certainty to the Process
I began working on Rape Kit Reform in 2014 because I learned how big of a problem untested rape kits are and how powerful this tool could be in getting dangerous criminals off the streets. Each year since then, we have made progress in fundamentally overhauling the way we process rape kits ensuring that each and every rape kit will now be tested.
This year, the next phase of reforms included a victim centered approach that gives a predictable timeline for the process. Kits are now required to be sent to the crime lab within thirty days, all rape kits must be tested within one year, and individuals must be notified when the results of the tests have been received by law enforcement. Just a couple of years ago, it was taking two years or more to get a rape kit tested.
Our reforms have created a predictable process that demonstrates to survivors that safety is a priority to the state.
Please note: Last week I announced new legislation to reduce the testing time to six months. This is the next step as we continue these reforms to improve public safety. Folks often ask how this became such a big problem. Simply put, this has not been a priority for the legislature and as news stories have reported all summer in some cases even law enforcement didn’t take appropriate action. Each step requires hiring more staff with the specialized training at the state crime lab. Please help us continue to make progress. Only when we take action can we improve safety in our communities.
Recognizing the International Year of the Salmon
The International Year of the Salmon is actually a five year endeavor to bring together as many stakeholders and government entities as possible to develop comprehensive multi-jurisdiction ways to “develop knowledge more effectively, raise awareness, and take action.” This is so important as many salmon populations are under threat with some already listed and for us locally unusual events like pre-spawn salmon die off. Now, more than ever, we need to bring people together and acknowledge that arbitrary political boundaries do not work for species management for salmon that travel thousands of miles between spawning areas and the oceans. We must work together. I am so pleased with the collaboration that took place this year. I was able to find legislators in Washington (Rep. Debra Lekanoff) and Oregon (Rep. Ken Helm) to work with and we all introduced measures in our respective states. When hearings took place, we each called in to testify on each other’s bills. I’ve never seen this done before. I hope it inspires my colleagues to think of new ways to work together with other policy makers. This foundation will allow us to find additional ways to work together to support strong wild salmon populations. What made this collaboration even more special is that Rep. Lekanoff grew up in Alaska and is Alaska Native from Yakutat on her mother’s side and the Pribilof Islands on her father’s side. She has been quoted as saying, “So the great state of Alaska is who built me.” She is the first Alaska Native/Native American woman elected to the Washington State House. I am very excited about the opportunity to work with her and Rep. Helm in support of our wild salmon!
May 15th as Hmong American Veterans Day
It’s been such an honor to work with our Hmong Veterans to recognize their service during the Vietnam War. When we first started working together, I was horrified to learn that even though the US government promised these individuals Veteran status for fighting alongside American soldiers, that promise was never fulfilled. I’ve worked hard to make this right, including passing legislation to allow a Veteran designation on their driver’s license or id card and now a bill to formally recognize May 15th at Hmong American Veterans Day in Alaska. One very special part of the testimony was when a young woman spoke of growing up in the United States and knowing people wonder about her heritage. She explained how important it is for the next generation that we honor the Hmong Veterans for their service, not just for them, but for their family and for the next generation, to understand where they came from and feel pride about who they are. It was very moving testimony.
We worked with community leaders on this legislation and were pleased the bill received near unanimous support in the House. Now, we must work to get the bill passed by the Senate. Some wonder why the date of May 15th was selected. According to Hmong Veteran and Mountain View neighbor Pasert Lee, May 15 is the appropriate day of honor because it’s the same date the US pulled troops out of Vietnam, back in 1975. It was on that day that communist forces invaded the Kingdom of Laos and began killing Hmong troops by the thousands as they attempted to flee to Thailand.
Please join me in securing this honorary day to honor their selfless service! You can send a letter in support of HB 56 and we will include it in the bill packet.
Expanding Opportunities for Farmers
Developing and expanding agriculture opportunities has been a priority of mine as we look to ways to diversify our economy, improve health, and become more food secure as a state. That’s why I introduced HB 16, to expand products allowed through herd share programs. This bill was developed with input from farmers statewide as I’ve tried to take their ideas and put them into legislation to support growth. This bill received unanimous support in the House and I am hopeful we will get the bill through the Senate this year.
Beyond working on legislation, saving agriculture funding became a priority for this year. Agriculture hasn’t been an issue that everyone was paying attention to until this year. This year was a crash course learning experience for most legislators about the importance of our agriculture industry and the unlimited potential for more in-state production following the February 14th budget proposal that showed no love for Alaska agriculture or the hard working farmers that produce the food we all enjoy. The Governor proposed eliminating all funding for the Division of Agriculture and the dairy inspector position at DEC. This sent shockwaves through the agriculture industry. The diary inspections are required and without them Havemeister’s Dairy would have to close down. Beyond that two additional dairy operations trying to come online would not be able to without the federally required inspections. We were able to save the dairy inspector position, but it took until August for the rest of the funding to be restored and sadly so much damage was done in the process. The Division lost staff, farmers lost products that couldn’t be inspected as required by the law, federal grant funds were threatened, and uncertainty had everyone on edge. What’s worse is no one knows what to expect for the coming year. It’s at the exact wrong time as growth in the agriculture industry is one really positive thing happening in our state. This spring the new Agriculture Census came out with some notable facts about what is happening in Alaska, including we have the highest percentage of new farmers and half of our farmers are women. The exciting news from the agriculture census even brought national coverage. See this Politico story that suggests “America's final frontier is experiencing an agricultural boom.” Please stay engaged as we go into the budget process this year!
Upcoming Community Council Meetings
The Mountain View Community Council’s next meeting will be Wednesday, November 13th at 6:00pm at the Mountain View Library, 120 Bragaw St.
The Russian Jack Community Council will also meet Wednesday, November 13th at 6:30 at Wonder Park Elementary, 5101 E 4th Ave.
The Airport Heights Community Council will meet on Thursday, November 21st, 7:00pm. Airport Heights Elementary School, 1510 Alder St.
Until next week,
P.S. Please let us know if you’d like to meet about a neighborhood issue or bill idea.