A bill directed at funding an office on American Indian-Alaska Native health passed unanimously through the Utah Senate’s Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee Feb. 4.
The bill highlights the implementation of a new budget in order to support a full-time liason for the office. Bill Sponsor Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, said that the bill does not create a new office.
The bill will allow the office to continue to serve eight Native American tribes across the state of Utah.
It also seeks to add a secondary position. Iwamoto emphasized that this would allow the office to provide assistance to these communities with immunizations, through the opioid crisis and through other public health crises.
“Serving eight independent and diverse tribes with unique concerns and disparities. The time is right to fulfill our commitment to these communities,” Iwamoto said.
In 2014, Gov. Gary Herbert established an executive order that created a tribal policy in the state of Utah.
According to the executive order, “The tribal policy will establish processes for regular and meaningful consultation with the Tribes when there is a proposed state action with tribal implications.”
Rupert Steele, the chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Indian Reservation, expressed his hopes that the legislature would pass the bill to continue the relationship expressed in Herbert’s executive order.
“By making a permanent position, the Utah State Legislature is sending a message to Indian Country that the health care issues matter and that the state of Utah will continue to serve the most underserved population in the state.” Steele said.
According to Iwamoto, these communities lead the state in poverty, childhood poverty, crime, disease, suicide, poor prenatal care and lack of access to health care services.
Melissa Zito has served as the Indian Health Liaison since 2004. She said that the addition of a position would allow for multiple people to assist the eight tribes across the state simultaneously on different issues.
The current program is running on federal grants that will run out later this year. According to the fiscal note, the office will cost the Department of Health $168,300 a year.