Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) is the prime sponsor of a tripartisan bill that will allow nonprofit meal programs — such as those found at schools, hospitals and senior centers — to serve donated fish and game from sport and subsistence harvesters.
The bill, HB 179, is co-sponsored by seven other legislators — four Republicans (Cathy Muñoz of Juneau, Charisse Millett of Anchorage, Louise Stutes of Kodiak and Tammie Wilson of North Pole), two Democrats (Neal Foster of Nome and Sam Kito III of Juneau), and an Independent (Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan). The was introduced on April 1 and already has hearings set for next week in the resources (Monday, April 6) and fisheries (Tuesday, April 7) committees. If those committees pass the bill, it could go before the House floor for a vote as early as late next week.
“Because of that broad support, this bill is in not just the fast lane, but in the Autobahn-style fast lane,” Kreiss-Tomkins told the Daily Sitka Sentinel. “This bill could go from being introduced to a vote on the floor in eight or nine days.”
Kreiss-Tomkins said the bill was inspired in part by Sitka’s Fish to Schools program, which allows commercial fishermen to donate locally caught seafood to local schools so it can be served in student lunches. However, many parts of the state don’t have commercial fisheries, and Alaska law currently bars food service organizations funded by state or federal meal programs from serving subsistence- and sport-harvested fish and game, even if it is donated.
In the sponsor statement for the bill, Kreiss-Tomkins writes:
Hunting and fishing is at the heart of our shared heritage as Alaskans. Every Alaskan looks forward to the season he or she can again fill the freezer with salmon, moose, caribou, seal, or berries. Alaskans happily share this food with family, children, and elders.
This sharing is not possible in our public institutions, however. Well-meaning state laws intended to prevent the commercialization of wild game have also largely prevented children in schools and elders in hospitals and senior centers from eating the traditional Alaska foods that we treasure. As a result, even though we are surrounded by some of the best food in the world, our children eat corndogs rather than caribou at school lunch; our elders are served spaghetti rather than seal.
This action follows a 2013 amendment U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) included in an agriculture bill that removed barriers that previously prohibited American Indians and Alaska Natives from serving traditional foods in hospitals, elder care facilities and schools. The amendment authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow for the donation and serving of traditional foods, which meet specific safety standards, in public facilities that primarily serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.
In his sponsor statement, Kreiss-Tomkins writes:
The bill also ensures traditional wild foods donated to and served by food service programs are safe to eat. The Department of Environmental Conservation already has regulations in place providing for the safe handling and processing of many traditional wild foods. HB 179 affirms the Department’s authority to oversee the safety of these foods.
HB 179 will nourish Alaska’s children and elders, both physically and spiritually. It will limit the amount of expensive and unhealthy processed food shipped to communities that have incredible food available just a short boat or snowmachine ride away. Children will develop an appreciation where their food comes from and elders will be able to keep eating the foods they love.