House Holds Last Hope for Nome Youth Facility

The Nome Youth Facility has been closed for more than a week after being defunded by Governor Mike Dunleavy’s line-item vetoes. An Alaska House Bill, HB 2001, passed yesterday, meaning that the Nome Youth Facility could potentially have some, or all, of its funding restored by the Legislature.

So far, there have been two failed votes in the Legislature to reverse the sweep and allow for funds to be released from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. Senate Bill 2002, according to ADN, would address two of the state’s major fiscal issues: the capital budget and reverse sweep. SB 2002 passed the House 29-7 on Tuesday, one vote short of the necessary 30-vote supermajority. Wendy Chamberlain with the Legislative Consultants of Alaska explains the funding outlined in the bill.

“The Senate passed it – it’s a Senate bill, the Senate passed it, right? It comes over to the House, so it’s sitting now in the House. If you look at the House bill, there’s a PFD and the operating budget. They’re adding money back in that they want. Nome Youth Facility’s in that…”

Its counterpart, HB 2001, passed 21-10 along party lines Wednesday and is headed to the Senate. HB 2001 proposed a reversal of all but $92 million of the governor’s vetoes from the state operating budget. It originally included language about PFD funding, but that has now been removed and put into a separate bill, House Bill 2003. This would allow the Nome Youth Facility, among other things, to be at least partially funded.

When asked about the possibility of the facility receiving funding, Governor Dunleavey’s spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, says he isn’t convinced that will become reality.

“If, in this hypothetical scenario, funding were to be restored, there would be the execution and the restoration of funding, but that is entirely hypothetical. Nothing that we’ve seen says that that will occur.”

If the House bill reversing Dunleavy’s vetoes passes in the Senate, it still needs to be approved by the Governor. To override the vetoes, the bill must be passed by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, youth will be temporarily housed at the Nome Youth Facility while they wait for transport to another facility. The Department of Health and Social Services says they have plans to continue utilizing, “telephone, videoconference, and individualized visitation plans” to allow the youth to maintain contact with their families.

DHSS states that the closure has caused the loss of 18 jobs at the Nome Youth Facility. However, two full-time Juvenile Justice Officers and one full-time, non-permanent JJO position will remain to assist with the juvenile detention services and secure escorts to another DJJ detention facility.

Multiple attempts to reach a DHSS spokesperson for further comment on the status of the youth facility and its employees were unsuccessful.

DHSS also mentions that the Nome Youth Facility will continue to house the Nome Juvenile Probation offices.

Even though the Nome Youth Facility turned some of its beds into treatment beds last fiscal year to help make their case to stay open, it still ended up being de-funded. Jamie Burgess, superintendent of Nome Public Schools, explains that change would allow students to stay at the facility long-term to receive mental health services and substance abuse treatment.

Image at top: Members of the Alaska House of Representatives are seen during a break before the final vote on House Bill 2001 on Wednesday afternoon. Sourced with permission from James Brooks / ADN.