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Alaska's food for thought

Kreiss-Tomkins, others awarded by teen environmental group

Posted: March 14, 2013 - 10:11pm  |  Updated: March 15, 2013 - 12:14am
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A coalition of twenty rural and urban high school students from across Alaska huddle in the cold at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza for lunch Thursday as they meet with legislators this week to ask for support for local food systems in Alaska.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
A coalition of twenty rural and urban high school students from across Alaska huddle in the cold at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza for lunch Thursday as they meet with legislators this week to ask for support for local food systems in Alaska.

As a strong wind howled down 4th Street downtown, many of the legislators they intended to honor were ensconced inside the Alaska State Capitol, deliberating over the state operating budget in a lengthy floor session.

But the students were undeterred.

High school students from across Alaska gathered in Dimond Courthouse Plaza to barbecue salmon and hand out awards for legislators Thursday at noon, whether they were there or not.

The teenagers of the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action were in Juneau this week for the annual four-day Civics and Conservation Summit, a youth leadership program.

Several lawmakers, among them Southeast Alaska’s Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, received awards and recognition from the AYEA for their support of local food and environmental issues.

As Kreiss-Tomkins and most of the other lawmakers were on the House floor debating budget amendments, legislative staffers were on hand to take receipt of the awards.

West Valley High School senior Madeline Rafferty of Fairbanks explained the process by which AYEA selected its 2013 “Legislators of the Year.”

“We looked at who was sponsoring our bills, the bills that we were in support of, and we also talked about representatives and senators who had been really supportive,” said Rafferty.

AYEA leadership director Megan McBride said she and other adult staff allowed students to choose which legislators they would recognize and what bills they would support.

“AYEA … is a very youth-led program,” McBride said. “Our staff and adult volunteers are there just to support them and guide them in the process, and help build up their skills and confidence. So youth in our group were the ones who chose what legislators to award and also the ones who chose what bills to focus on.”

Kreiss-Tomkins was awarded in part for his cosponsorship of House Bill 89, which seeks to create a rapid response fund and capability for the state to deal with invasive aquatic species before they become entrenched in an area.

“I’m not quite sure what criteria they used,” laughed Kreiss-Tomkins, discussing the award in his office Thursday afternoon. “I don’t exactly have a lengthy legislative history – but I’ll take it.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, also received an award.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, received an award as well. She introduced House Joint Resolution 5, which expresses opposition to the possible federal approval of a genetically modified salmon variant for human consumption.

Kreiss-Tomkins is one of many cosponsors of the resolution – which has already passed the House – as is Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, who was able to receive his award in person.

“It’s always an honor to be chosen for an award like that, especially from kids who care so much about Alaska,” said Wielechowski, who was honored for his sponsorship of a bill to fund school meal programs. “It’s always nice to be recognized by, particularly, the future leaders of our state.”

“It was a very windy day, so I think the weather deterred a few people from coming, but overall, I think it was a great success,” McBride said. “We had a lot of people who stopped by and grabbed some food and talked to the teens.”

While just a few legislators made it to the plaza for Thursday’s barbecue, McBride said the teenagers had ample opportunity to interact with them throughout the week, attending committee meetings and floor sessions as well as scheduling constituent meetings with their representatives in the Legislature.

“Some of the students came by today, and we talked about legislation of concern,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “Our office has been proactive on local food issues.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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