On Friday, January 11, I tuned into a 1-hour webinar entitled “New Alaska Statute Directs State Policy to Incorporate Principles of Brain Development.” As an educator and trauma trainer with a long-established interest in research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), I was interested in learning how, in this political environment, scientific knowledge on trauma and its impact was going to be codified and utilized in governmental policymaking. I was equally curious to understand how supporters of the bill overcame political landmines in their efforts to procure bill passage.

The webinar was co-hosted by the Campaign for Trauma-informed Policy and Practice (CTIPP) and the ACEs Connection Network; it has been archived and will be available on the website of the latter sponsor.

Alaska State House Representative Geran Tarr (representing East Anchorage) traced the history of the bill which she initially sponsored as a non-binding resolution in the House (HCR 21) in 2016 where it languished. She reintroduced it in 2017 as HCR 2 where, again, it failed to make it out of committee. She noted that there were questions about the seriousness of the “problem” of trauma as well as concerns about the role of government in intervening in family matters. In 2018, following passage of Erin’s Law, a statute that brought attention to, and mandated education on, child sexual abuse prevention, Rep. Tarr again introduced the bill and urged the Committee Chair to schedule the resolution for a hearing and vote on the floor. Concurrently, she employed a number of political tactics to put pressure on her colleagues in the House. She acknowledges that supporters used an “unrelenting” social media campaign and grass-roots efforts to garner bipartisan support in the House and to seek allies in the Senate who would introduce a companion bill.

The Resolution was passed in the House and a companion bill was proposed in the Senate. In the waning hours of the legislative session, when it appeared that the bill’s progress was again mired in Committee politics, an opportunity arose to amend some of the language of the resolution to a bill on Marriage and Family Counseling. SB 105 passed the Alaska Senate on May 12, 2018, and was signed by the Governor in August.

What did it say? How was it to be interpreted and implemented?

The relevant amendment to SB 105 reads:

It is the policy of the state to acknowledge and take into account the principles of early childhood and youth brain development and, whenever possible, consider the concepts of early adversity, toxic stress, childhood trauma, and the promotion of resilience through protective relationships, supports, self-regulation, and services.

In September of 2018, the Alaskan government convened a 2-day meeting on ACEs and the implementation of SB 105. How would considerations of early childhood adversity impact medical and behavioral health, military and veteran affairs, transportation, education, business, natural resource utilization, and other government policy and practice?

There were no immediate answers, but Alaska is not alone in posing these questions. CTIPP reports that, in 2018, 27 states considered 89 legislative bills with mention of ACEs.