In this Feb. 9 photo, University of Alaska Southeast assistant professor of Alaska Native Languages Lance Twitchell teaches a basic Northwest Coast Formline Art workshop at UAS. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

In this Feb. 9 photo, University of Alaska Southeast assistant professor of Alaska Native Languages Lance Twitchell teaches a basic Northwest Coast Formline Art workshop at UAS. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

House asks Walker to declare emergency for Alaska Native languages

The Alaska House of Representatives is urging Gov. Bill Walker to declare a “linguistic emergency” in order to protect Alaska Native languages.

The House voted 34-4 Monday morning to approve House Concurrent Resolution 19, which contains the request. The resolution advances to the Senate for consideration. If the Senate also agrees with the intent of the resolution, it would be sent to the governor.

A resolution lacks the binding power of legislation; it effectively acts as a letter of complaint or (in this case) request.

“I strongly believe that a linguistic emergency declaration is warranted because of the predictions that many of Alaska’s languages will become extinct by the end of the century,” Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, said in a prepared statement.

“That’s unacceptable, and we should dedicate time and resources to make sure that does not happen,” he said.

Ortiz was the resolution’s sponsor on the House floor.

The text of HCR 19 calls on the governor and Legislature to adopt as-yet unidentified “legislative and policy measures” to “prioritize the survival and continued use of Alaska Native languages.”

On the House floor, several lawmakers pointed out that religious, governmental and other institutions suppressed Alaska Native languages during the 19th and 20th centuries, causing their decline in favor of English. That has hampered efforts to preserve Native cultures statewide.

The Alaska Native Languages Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks recognizes 20 distinct Alaska Native languages. Of those, one has no fluent speakers; another has only one fluent speaker who is more than 90 years old. All are considered threatened.

“Language loss is a loss of vital human experience,” said Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, “and we should all feel that.”

Ortiz said the resolution is a first step toward more concrete actions intended to halt and reverse the decline of Native languages in the state.

House urges descheduling of marijuana

In other business Monday, the House voted unanimously, 38-0, in favor of a resolution from Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, that asks the federal government to “reconsider its listing of marijuana as a federal schedule I controlled substance” and asks that the federal government to respect the state’s authority to regulate marijuana within its borders.

Alaska legalized recreational marijuana use with a 2014 ballot measure, becoming the third state in the U.S. to do so. Though six other states have followed in Alaska’s footsteps since 2014, the drug remains illegal and heavily restricted at the federal level. This has resulted in enormous struggles for the nascent marijuana industry, particularly with regard to transportation and access to the nation’s banks.

House Joint Resolution 21 advances to the Senate for consideration.

Regulation authority change

The House also voted 35-2 in favor of House Concurrent Resolution 10, from Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski. If approved by the Senate, HCR 10 will grant the Legislature’s standing committees authority over regulations in their respective fields.

The resolution’s passage follows the House’s action Wednesday to pass a bill dissolving the Administrative Regulation Review Committee. HCR 10 will take the special committee’s powers and distribute them among the Legislature’s other committees.

Both HCR 10 and the bill, House Bill 168, must be approved by the Senate to become effective.

Concurrence vote passes

A procedural vote at the end of Monday’s House floor session will send House Bill 213, affecting the investments of the Public School Trust Fund, to the Senate.

HB 213, which turns the fund into a Permanent Fund-style investment trust, was sponsored by Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau. The bill had been held for a reconsideration vote, which it passed 21-16 when a late-arriving Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, became the 21st vote.

Opinion poll fails

In the Alaska Senate’s Monday floor session, the sole item of note was a procedural move by the Senate’s minority Democrats to force an opinion poll-style vote on the issue of whether or not the Alaska Permanent Fund should divest itself of investments in Russian companies under sanctions by the U.S. federal government.

The “Sense of the Senate,” brought by Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, failed 4-14 with two members absent.

The Alaska Permanent Fund’s board of trustees has consistently argued that it is “not authorized to include moral or political considerations in its investment decisions,” to quote a 2009 resolution by the board of trustees.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, reminded the Senate of that fact before the vote.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.


Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, presents House Concurrent Resolution 10 to Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham on Monday, March 19, 2018 in the Alaska State Capitol. (Brian Hild | Alaska House Majority)

Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, presents House Concurrent Resolution 10 to Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham on Monday, March 19, 2018 in the Alaska State Capitol. (Brian Hild | Alaska House Majority)

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