JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Senate passed legislation Friday to formally recognize tribes in Alaska, which supporters said was an overdue step that would create opportunities for the state and tribes to work together.

The measure passed 15-0 and will return to the House, which passed a similar version last year. If the House agrees to the Senate version, the bill will go to the governor. If the bill is enacted, its passage would likely bump from this year’s ballot a similar tribal recognition initiative. Initiatives that qualify for the ballot can be bumped if the Legislature passes substantially similar legislation first.

The group behind the initiative, Alaskans for Better Government, said its goal is to “secure State recognition of Alaska’s federally-recognized Tribes, regardless of whether this is accomplished via the legislature or the ballot box.”

Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, a Bethel Democrat, sponsored the bill, HB123.

In a statement that accompanied the measure, she said it “serves as a first step, formalizing in statute that the State of Alaska will no longer deny Tribes’ existence. This provides not only a first step towards stronger relationships between Alaska and its tribes, but also a roadmap for healing, wholeness, and restoration of all Alaska’s people and communities.”