The Central Council Tlingit & Haida is suing the State of Alaska to gain control of child support matters for its members.
The tribe filed a lawsuit in Juneau Superior Court on Jan. 19 against the state and Department of Revenue Commissioner Patrick Galvin and Director of the Alaska Child Support Services Division John Mallonee. The council wants a declaratory judgment that will require the state to recognize its tribal court and administrative orders regarding child support that are granted under federal law.
"In our tribe, we decided that we wanted to do something to make sure that children and families are supported," said Bob Loescher, vice chairman of the Tlingit & Haida Tribal Judiciary Committee.
State officials declined to comment on the matter prior to the resolution of the lawsuit.
Last year the Legislature unanimously passed a bill that brought the state in line with the federal Uniform Child Support Act.
"Basically it added the word tribe in the definition of eligible entities that the state of Alaska could work with," Loescher said. "And so we expected that after passing the state statute by a large majority in both houses of the Legislature ... that we would get cooperation from the State of Alaska child service and the attorney general to manage the cases that we bring forward, including our tribal court orders."
The state has failed to recognize the tribe's authority on child support matters, particularly when it comes to garnishing Permanent Fund Dividend checks from delinquent parents, he said.
"For two years in a row, we've basically had to negotiate agreements with the state administration to allow for PFD withholdings," Loescher said. "In 2008, the state failed to withhold the monies that we had requested through tribal administration and tribal court orders. This last year we were able to get a memorandum for one time to get a number of cases' money held back."
The tribal judiciary committee decided that it needed to file a lawsuit against the state so it will follow the direction of the Legislature and federal law that recognizes tribal court orders, he said.
Loescher said the tribe has advanced funds to some families and it "has a right to recapture the funds that it advances to the families in order to provide for child support."
"It's to the benefit of the state of Alaska to work with us because it reduces their case load and also helps the citizens, whether they are tribal members or citizens of the state of Alaska," he said. "We feel strongly that that is truly a public benefit that Tlingit & Haida tribe is providing to the state and its citizen by at least taking care of tribal members that have a need in child support matters."
Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.