Alaska’s local hire requirement laws are unconstitutional, according to a Department of Law review and an 11-page opinion written by Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, who wrote the current laws should not be enforced.

Clarkson issued the opinion late Thursday writing: “Excluding nonresidents in order to economically benefit residents is not a legitimate state purpose under the federal Privileges and Immunities Clause or Alaska’s Equal Protection Clause.”

The current law applies largely to public works contracts and in areas where the state’s overall or regionally unemployment out-strips the rest of the country.

This, one lawmaker says, “creates broader social problems, and when employment of out-of-state residents contributes to unemployment.”

In an interview with reporters Friday, House State Affairs co-chair Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, said the impetus behind the opinion is contractor lawsuit against the state, alleging the state’s Alaska hire law to be unconstitutional.

The suit, filed on behalf of Seacon by former Attorney General Michael Geraghty, asked the court to declare the law unconstitutional and order the state to no longer enforce the law.

“The Department of Law has long been skeptical about the constitutionality of this provision,” Clarkson said, “but since it has not been directly challenged in court since late 1980, there had been no need to make a final determination.”

Clarkson said the suit, which also sought financial restitution for assessed penalties, has been settled but added DOL has not yet announced how and if it will continue enforcing the law.

Some lawmakers, however, say this an ideological argument disguised as a legal position.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said he will be seeking a legal opinion from the Legislature’s legal team. An attorney, Wielechowski question Clarkson’s motivation.

“It’s dismaying that the governor is going out of his way to strike down a law that’s been on the books through six different governors and probably 12 different attorney generals and eight or nine different labor commissioners,” Wielechowski said.

Wielechowski said even if Clarkson believed a fresh look at a decades-old law was warranted the conclusions lack merit.

“If there was merit, I think it would have been challenged in 30 years,” he said. “The court has not said that you can’t have local hire laws. That is not true at all and that’s the way this attorney general has interpreted it.”

Fields said the timing could not be worse for a state still fighting its way out of a recession.

"At a time when Alaskans face the highest unemployment in the nation, Mike Dunleavy is using a politically-charged legal opinion to put even more of our neighbors out of work," Fields said.

Union leaders released a joint statement on Oct. 7 condemning the administration's decision.

“Dunleavy’s cancellation of Alaska hire requirements is a slap in the face of construction workers who have endured years of inadequate work and high unemployment,” said Aaron Plikat, President of the Southcentral Building Trades and Construction Council.

According to DOL, about 20% of the state’s workforce comes from outside Alaska.

 

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