Remarks: Emergency Adoption Regulations April 16, 2015 Governor: It’s an exciting day for this administration, for Byron and myself, for Alaska. We are very excited to talk about what’s happening today here in Juneau. We have introduced, and yesterday signed, Lt. Governor Mallott signed the emergency regulations that deals with the issue of adoption of native children and it’s an issue that we have been working on for quite some time. The emergency regulations are the first step. The second step is we introduced legislation, statutory changes that will make it easier for native families, make sure that native children are going to native families. We have been working with OCS on this. The legislation we know will not get through this session. We will have follow up regulations to match the statutory changes. We are going as far as we can with emergency regulations up to the statutory limitations now. This is to ensure that on the adoption process, Alaska native children are much higher probability, and the path is easier, to be adopted into a native family. The processes have been challenging over the years as far as allowing that process to work smoothly when you’re in a village. There have been a number of cases in the past where that’s been challenging for them to do that. We want to make sure that those challenges are minimized. This is the first step of a journey that we’re on to make this better. We’re very excited about it, Byron and I, Julie, Val, Paulette, Craig – we’re a small number of the team that’s been working on this. It’s very exciting to be at this stage. To actually be taking this first step in this regard. So Byron, do you want to say a few words? Lt. Governor: Yes. The emergency regulations allow us to begin to deal immediately with opportunities for native children to be . . . native children in need to be adopted by native families and to allow a process that is responsive to the requirements and the state obligations under the Indian Child Welfare Act. As Governor Walker has indicated, to allow the State of Alaska to be as much in total compliance with the mandates and requirements of ICWA as is possible under the current circumstances. Julie Kitka: On behalf of the Alaska Federation of Natives, I want to thank Governor Walker, on behalf of our Board of Directors and our whole team, and want to recognize Governor Walker and his administration’s willingness to partner with the Alaska native community on this issue. I am so proud today and the efforts he and his team have done because it’s real and it impacts children in our state today. It is not a hypothetical thing, it is real and it is positive. The real focus of our efforts has not just been on the laws and the regulations and the permitting of how we’re implementing this and that, because it is very complex and there are very many legal aspects. Our focus has been to pay attention to what is in the best interests of the children and make sure that families are at the forefront. I am so deeply honored that the Governor viewed our children, the children of the State of Alaska as being so important to take these special and important efforts on that. I want to describe just briefly what the statute combined with the emergency regulation does. It basically creates a foundation to move forward. A foundation with the State working with Alaska’s tribes can ensure the Indian Child Welfare Act remains a vital and meaningful protection for native children and the tribes. It works towards implementing the intent, the whole purpose of that. This is very awesome to get to a stage where you have a governor and his top administration paying attention to this. So we want to thank the Governor and his team for doing that. Thank you. Commissioner Val Davidson: Quyana Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Mallott and AFN leadership for these incredible measures that are really going to make a difference in the lives of Alaska children. What we’re trying to do today through these efforts is that we recognize that we have a disproportionality problem. Alaska native children right now make up about 20% of our populations. But over 60% of the children in out of home placements in Alaska right now are Alaska native or American Indian. The Indian Child Welfare Act which is a federal law that was passed in 1978 was passed for the expressed purpose of ensuring that that wouldn’t happen in states and in communities. And it requires that children that are in state custody are placed with relatives, tribal members, Indian families, etc. And despite the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act and since 2009, annually over 40% of Alaska native children who exited care through an adoption or guardianship were not adopted or were not placed with native families. We recognize that it has become more difficult for Alaska native family members, for extended tribal members, for the tribes to be able to come forth and adopt children. So two things have happened today, oh excuse me, yesterday. The first is filing emergency regulations regarding the adoption of children subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act. And let me tell you what that is. There’s a who, there’s a how and there’s a where. So for the who, the Department of Health and Social Services will recognize an alternative proxy for a formal petition for adoption. And who is, it can be a request by a relative, by a tribal member or other Indian family or the tribe interested in immediate placement or adoption of a child. The how is, one of the things that we hear from families all the time, certainly I hear it as a Yupik person, is sometimes a person in a proceeding may be asked a question like this, and let me just give you an illustration. (Yupik language). And based upon none of you stepped forward, because you didn’t understand what I asked you to do, families are impacted. I asked you in Yupik if you’re a person who wants to step forward. Come now, now is the time. Now is the only time that you can do that. That’s what families face in Alaska every day. So, that’s the who. How is the request can be conveyed to the Department by phone, by mail, by fax, by email or in person. And the where is it can actually happen in any court hearing in the child of need of aid matter or the CINA matter. These emergency regulations have been adopted and they are effective immediately. There will be notice for public comment shortly and we’ll begin the process for moving forward for implementation of the final regulations which we anticipate to happen before these emergency regulations expire August 12, 2015. And with regard to the second issue, the legislation, Governor Walker transmitted a bill for introduction to address additional barriers that exist. It describes many of the things that I described before. It allows additional flexibility. Right now a person who wants to adopt a child in state custody must first file a formal petition for adoption and have the adoption hearing heard in a probate proceeding that separate from the child in need of aid proceeding. This bill that’s proposed by Governor Walker allows them to happen at once. In other words, a proceeding for adoption can be filed and heard in the existing child in need of aid proceeding. In addition to the three things that I described before, by the who, the where and the what, the department also in the bill has flexibility to adopt additional regulations to be able to address other alternatives. And as Governor Walker mentioned earlier today, this is a good thing for Alaska. Quyana. Paulette Schuerch: You know for many years, our children in rural Alaska have really not been at the forefront when it comes to ICWA cases. They are affected at the family level and at their home level. I’m just really proud to be part of this team that Governor Walker where children come first in his heart and for us to be able to be part of the discussion and part of the solution is very promising. I just really want to say Inupiaq Ariigaa Taikuu, Governor. Governor: As you can see, that’s why we’re excited about this today. I’m just am so thrilled with the team that worked on making this happen. This really is the first step of a journey that we’re excited to be a part of. I’m gonna guess you have other questions today, we don’t want to cut you short. I do have to be at something at 11, if we don’t get to all the questions, we will reconvene at about 2 o’clock. Again, I didn’t want to take you away from any other questions that you might possibly have at this late juncture in the session. So did anyone else have anything else they wanted to add to this issue? Julie Kitka: I just wanted to clarify, when you get to the heart of this issue, you’re talking about the Governor and the native communities seeing a problem, seeing something that can be fixed, fixing and move on. Is this on the same magnitude as some of the other challenges we face in the state? In our view, because it affects our children and affects our families and it is state wide across the entire state, it’s critically important. But what it is is a problem, working together and fixing it. That’s what we’re most proud of and it’s a new direction, new message from the Governor to the native community and we’re proud to be a part of it. Governor: Thank you guys, Thank you very much. Questions? Nat, I think you had your hand up first. Nat Herz, Alaska Dispatch News: I guess for the Governor and for the key company, can you guys explain your understanding of, this sounds like it stems from the 2011 court case. What’s your understanding of why actions like these or to fix this problem haven’t been taken already? Governor: You know, I can’t speak as to why things haven’t taken already. But this didn’t happen overnight, this bringing together the regulations and the statutory change. It began when we came into office. Because that’s something we’ve talked about, about the relationship with the tribes in Alaska. And when you start with children . . . that’s where you start. So I can’t speak as to why it took so long to get here over the years or the decades, that’s really not our issues. It’s really what we do going forward. So that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. Adam? Julie Kitka: Let me respond further. It ties into with the recent State Supreme Court decision in which its impacts would be that any native person family wants to apply to adopt a child would have to get a lawyer and the fact that how impossible that would be statewide, how expensive let alone not the legal resources and taking a look at that. It also looks into the fact that the Bureau of Indian Affairs recently put out guidelines which they’re putting in draft regulations to try to improve the process. So it’s just looking at this point in time, how can we deal with the situation that’s going on. How can we create a win-win situation? That’s what the Governor and Commission Davidson helped pull together, is took a look at the existing situation, the existing legal things on that and rather than fight it out continually all in court, is let’s do some practical things that really impact people. Governor: Adam. Adam Pinsker, KTUU: If we have time to shift gears here briefly, the Speaker this morning seemed taken back by your executive proclamation to have a special joint session tomorrow at 10. He said that he felt his word was his bond and he was going to hear the confirmations before the weekend was out. Why do this tomorrow? Why do this so quickly? Governor: Well, it was originally scheduled for tomorrow. That was the reason we had it scheduled. We became concerned, I became concerned, when I saw a legal memo that was requested, a legal opinion that looked to me like a potential road map around this process and that became a grave concern to me. That was made available, it was asked for in February and made available I think to the media, we found out through the media this week. It was a concern. So it’s really about making sure there’s a process in place for the approximately 90 Alaskans who have stepped forward to be part of this administration, part of boards & commissions, that they are insured they have an opportunity to be voted on up or down. Adam Pinsker, KTUU: He had said that the reason why they cancelled it was because they had to get some budget issues, legislative issues through first. Do you buy that explanation? Governor: You know, it’s not about me buying any explanations about what I think. What I have to do as Governor of this state is ensure that a process is in place for those that have quit their jobs, moved to Juneau, be part of this administration, and we want to make sure that they have an opportunity, that they’re voted on for confirmation. Question: About a month ago you guys asked for more time in the Tununak case. Did these regulations have any effect on that or how is the State moving forward on that case? Governor: Do we need more time? Question: About a month ago, you asked for more time Julie Kitka: They asked for additional time and yesterday the State did file its brief. A very short brief on that. So yes, like I said, it’s kind of a conflict, kind of a complex thing that they had the filing in the court case, the court case is still ongoing in which the State Supreme Court is trying to decide if they’re going to open it up again or not. But the State has filed its piece on that. What this emergency regulation does is takes care of an immediate need right now. But that case is still continuing in the Supreme Court. Question: So these regulations don’t have any intersection with that case? They don’t affect it? Governor: They, I wouldn’t think that they would, no. Rhonda? Rhonda McBride, KTVA: Two questions. . . first one on this issue. For decades there has been debate about the State’s relationship with tribes on the Indian Child Welfare Act. So what is it about this time around that’s changed? Is it the fact, because this is a complicated issue? It’s really hard for someone to know all these things. I mean, who are your mentors in explaining the issue to you? Governor: Actually, it’s not that complicated I don’t think. It’s a matter of making it easier for the Alaska native children to be adopted within their tribes. I think that the numbers prove that out. Commissioner Davidson was correct. 20% of the children are Alaskan native, but 60+% of those that are in need of adoption are in . . . are Alaskan native children. That’s a disconnect on the numbers of something needed to be changed. We just don’t want to be a situation that a child does not have that opportunity to be adopted within their tribe and grow up in the culture that they were born to, is their heritage. Really it’s about, we have a disconnect on the process itself. The process doesn’t necessarily match the ability of someone to . . . the process is somewhat matched to someone who lives in urban Alaska who has access to legal services and be able to go through a very technical dot every “I”, cross every “T” process. We wanted to make sure that a voice can be heard of a desire to adopt a child without having to go through quite the laborious process that is currently in place right now. We’ve receive positive . . . this is a situation that everyone is working together on this, OCS certainly recognizes this need for modification. There really is no one pushing back on the other side, saying no this shouldn’t happen. It’s just time. I really can’t address as to why it hasn’t in the past. That’s really not my particular issue. Rhonda McBride, KTVA: Just a quick follow up on Medicaid expansion. Lawmakers, house leaders today said that it may not come up for a vote, it’s not likely at least before adjournment. Governor: Well, we hope they do. We hope they do bring it up for a vote before adjournment. If they don’t, that is something that we are going to address. The thought of having 40,000 some Alaskans not having access to healthcare that is 100% paid for by our tax dollars that we just paid a couple days ago, or yesterday perhaps it was, is not acceptable. I want to have that brought to a vote. I think Alaskans have spoken loudly on this issue. They have spoken at the voting booth at this last election in who they elected. We have received overwhelming support. Another 50 organizations came in over the weekend of support from various communities, local governments, chamber of commerces, medical providers. The list goes on. I’m very hopeful that they will bring it to a vote. Matt. Matt Buxton, Fairbanks Daily News Miner: The constitution says that the legislature has 120 days. Should they keep working on Medicaid expansion if they can’t get it done by Sunday? Governor: I’m sorry? I couldn’t quite hear you. Matt Buxton, Fairbanks Daily News Miner: The constitution says the legislature has 120 days. Should they stay in session if they can’t get to Medicaid expansion by Sunday? Governor: We’ll see how close they get. And we’ll make that decision in the next couple of days as far as whether or not they continue on, on the special session. Nat Herz, Alaska Dispatch News: Do you see any other, you know I guess . . . this is one issue, long standing issue between the State and Alaska Native groups. Is there other issues, other realm, other things that you see changing now? Is it, this kinda looks like a big total change in a way that the State has been treating these groups. What do you see? Is there a road forward of new? Governor: You know it is. It is a first step in a relationship. There are other issues we are going to look at. I can’t list them all out right today, but I can guarantee you the most difficult step sometime in a journey is sometimes the first step. And today we made that first step. So are there other issues? You bet there are. And we’re going to address them, you bet we will. But we’ll address them in the same way, in a collaborative approach. Sit down, have a discussion. It won’t be sort of a one-sided discussion or we introduce something that others haven’t. Some issues may impact all Alaskans; it’s not just about relationship with the tribes. We will get all input as we go forward. But this is exciting because it is the first step. It is very necessary. You know when you start doing something for the children, you know you’re on the right path as far as I’m concerned. Katie. Katie Moritz, Juneau Empire: Senate Minority Leader, Berta Gardner yesterday, I think it was, brought up the attorney general appointee and said that his involvement in a Supreme Court case was causing her pause in how she felt about him as an appointee. I was wondering if you could talk about if that is at all related to, that case is at all related to these regulations and what she was talking about because I don’t think she was able to give me a lot more detail. Governor: No, I don’t think there is any issue between us on that. There was a case that started long before, years ago before our administration. It ended before our administration as far as the Supreme Court decision, so it’s one that we sort of inherited. So this is separate from that. We don’t have any problem. He and I don’t have any problem on that. Alex. Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN: Kind of following up on that point. Last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Richards said he was supporting the State’s prior position in the Tununak case and with these regulations, with this bill, it sounds like a pretty divergent position between yourself and what we’re seeing at the Department of Law. I was just wondering if you might be able to square that. Governor: Well, that was a set of facts, that’s a law, that’s regulations that were in place today that we’re changing going forth. We can’t change; we can’t rewrite what was in place at that time when that circumstance came up. We can rewrite the future and that’s what we’re doing. So going back and applying these regulations, emergency regulations retroactively to that, it just can’t be done. So our focus is moving forward, making sure that fact pattern doesn’t arise again. Question: The State of Alaska vs. Tlingit and Haida child’s work systems case, are you you guys looking at taking a similar approach and changing regulations to kind of mediate relationships, mediate bad relationships with some of the tribes? Are you guys gonna change anything when it comes to that? Governor: (cell phone ringing). I’m not sure I know the answer to that question. I’m not actually sure I heard the question as my phone went off, but I’m sorry. Question: So the case was Tlingit and Haida and State of Alaska, the State was opposing Tlingit and Haida’s authority to issue child support orders and that’s a case that’s still being considered by the Supreme court. Is the State going to approach that in any way? Governor: These regulations don’t address that and we’ll go through the same process and decide what we’re going to do on that as well, what we’ve just gone through now. But this does not address that and we don’t have an opinion today on what we’re going to do on that particular case. Becky, I’m sorry. Becky Bohrer, Associated Press: On the issue of Medicaid expansion, when you indicated if they don’t do something we would address it. Is that eluting to a special session; is that eluting to something else? Governor: Yes, yes we would address it if they run out of time and it has not been addressed and they don’t extend their own time to address that, then we’ll put more time on the clock. Becky Bohrer, Associated Press: You’ll call a special session? Governor: At this point, that’s my opinion based on where we are today. Austin Baird, KTUU: Just back to the question of your proclamation, you have until Saturday to veto HB 132. A couple legislative leaders eluted to that being part of the motivation behind the proclamation. Is that correct, or can you speak to, I guess why use that tactic? Governor: No. There’s no connection between the two. I will veto HB 132. I continue to meet and try to look at ways . . . in fact I had a teleconference last night when I talked about a way forward on 132 that wouldn’t necessarily need to be a veto override. So I continue to look for ways to sort of . . . We’ve had multiple meetings with the speaker and president of the Senate and I appreciate their willingness to meet regularly on that. They are separate. So hopefully by the time I veto it, we have reached some sort of understanding so that they won’t feel the need to move for an override of my veto. And one last question before we go. . Dorene Lorenz, ABC Fox: With your expressed desire today to really help the children of Alaska, what is your feeling about the cuts being made to the education budget? Governor: I have not been bashful about my concern about the cuts in education. It was very difficult and painful for us to make the cuts we did at $32 million to another $47.5 million. I am very concerned about the impact that will have on education, on the students themselves. So I am concerned about that. Obviously that doesn’t tie into what we’re doing today but I am very, very concerned about that. We are going to continue to see what . . . it’s in the legislators’ hands. I think they’ve said it, some have said it very well. . . Senator Micciche, his comment about the most difficult day of his political career was in education, cutting education. We can all relate to that. But I think it’s gone too far. I think we need to put funding back in. I just think it’s gone too far. Governor: I have not asked for, taken calls those that are on line. I apologize for that. I’m more than happy to reconvene at 2 o’clock if you’d like to finish up questions. I apologize to those I didn’t get to. We’ll see at 2 o’clock. Julie Kitka: One final comment. I just wanted to respond to your question on the Tlingit and Haida case one that. From the Alaska Federations of Natives’ perspective, we’re looking at all the on-going litigation and looking at having discussions with administration on each and every one of those where we think that there’s a path other than fighting it out in court. We tired of everything; only conversation being held in the courtroom between lawyers on that. We think that there’s problems that can be solved so that larger issue. But also the Alaska Federations of Natives stands ready to work with the Governor and the legislative leadership in trying to solve the economic challenges facing our state with tremendous problem with the oil prices and that. We want to be not putting out old fires but coming forward and solving some of these problems. I just wanted to put that forward. Thank you. Governor: Thank you very much.