The 32nd Alaska Legislature convened in Juneau on Jan. 19. The Senate organized a Republican majority caucus for the ninth straight year and selected a leader, but the House remains unorganized, without a majority or a Speaker. Democratic Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky represents the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in the House. She spoke with KYUK about how the unorganized body can move forward.
Without a majority caucus or a leader, the House can’t take action. It can’t form committees, create policy, bring bills to a hearing, or pass a state budget. In short, it can’t do any of the work that it has gathered in Juneau to do. Usually this organization happens in November after the election, but neither party in the House has been able to assemble a majority so far.
Zulkosky is hopeful that members will soon form a bi-partisan caucus and organize, now that they’re gathered together in person, but with limitations due to COVID-19 precautions.
“It’s always a bit challenging and tenuous to figure out values and ideals that people have when we can’t come together in a room,” Zulkosky said.
Until the House organizes, Zulkosky says that she’ll keep preparing by meeting with constituents and stakeholders in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
“To really understand what the needs and priorities are in the district, so we’re ready to go and hit the ground running when session begins,” Zulkosky said.
Zulkosky hopes to again chair, or at least have a seat on, the Health and Social Services Committee, and to again lead the Tribal Affairs Committee. This committee formed under a resolution last session and would require another resolution to continue this session. Zulkosky wants to see the Tribal Affairs Committee become a standing committee that would remain in existence from year to year.
“It’s always important to remember that there are tribal nonprofits, Alaska Native corporations, different tribal groups, and tribes that are working hand-in-hand for a lot of the same goals that the State of Alaska has,” Zulkosky said. “So there’s such an incredible opportunity for partnership and engagement in a really meaningful way.”
Zulkosky has pre-filed one bill for this session, House Bill 38. It would create three changes to police standards in Alaska. First, it would require police officers to undergo training in “government-to-government relationships with federally recognized tribes in the state.” Second, it would require the Alaska Department of Public Safety to employ two people “in the department to act as liaisons between law enforcement agencies and the tribes, and to investigate cases involving missing and murdered indigenous women.” Third, the bill would “require state and local law enforcement agencies to use standardized methods for investigating a missing person report involving an indigenous woman.”
Zulkosky hopes that this standardization can build trust between Alaska Native communities and the law enforcement officers and prosecutors investigating these cases, which all agree go unsolved too often.
“The end goal is making sure that Alaska Native people, regardless of where they live, are able to be safe and protected. And if not, that there’s a reliable system in place to use every resource possible to make sure that justice is brought forward,” Zulkosky said.
Zulkosky drafted the bill in partnership with various Alaska Native organizations, including Native Peoples Action and Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center.
The session is convening with security and public health precautions. Zulkosky says that she’s requiring her staff to wear masks at work and to conduct as much work as possible remotely in an effort to try to protect the health of everyone in the capitol building.
Correction: The original version of this article said that Rep. Zulkosky hoped to again co-chair the House Health and Social Services Committee. The article has been corrected to say that Rep. Zulkosky hopes to again chair the House Health and Social Services Committee.