AP NEWS

Senate leaders pan attorney general’s local hire opinion

November 1, 2019

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s attorney general violated the state constitution by not defending a law that encourages construction firms to use Alaska workers on state contracts, according to leaders of the state Senate majority and minority.

Senate President Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, an Anchorage Democrat, criticized Attorney General Kevin Clarkson in separate letters for his actions on a local hire challenge, the Anchorage Daily News reported .

In response, Clarkson said he took an oath to defend the U.S. and Alaska constitutions. The law violates those constitutions, he said, and it makes sense to stop enforcing it.

“I didn’t take an oath to promise to defend every law the Legislature passes no matter how unconstitutional it is,” he said.

Hiring laws that give Alaskans a preference over workers who earn high wages and fly home to other states have been an issue for decades.

Alaska’s local-hire law at the time of its passage was believed to be in accordance with the law and has remained in force for 30 years without challenge until this year. It has been backed by Republican and Democratic state administrations.

In July, a southeast Alaska construction company, SECON, sued and said the law was unconstitutional. The company challenged fines the state had imposed.

The Alaska Department of Law decided to settle. State attorneys canceled some of the fines and Clarkson agreed to write a legal opinion about the constitutionality of the law.

The opinion said existing Alaska local-hire law is unconstitutional and should not be defended.

Legislators objected and said Clarkson should defend state law until a judge renders a verdict.

“Your ad hoc determination that the laws of our land, which remain untested in the courts, are unconstitutional is a diversion into the lawmaking field that is rightfully the purview of this branch of government,” Giessel wrote Oct. 22.

A letter by Begich, and co-signed by Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski of Anchorage, said the attorney general’s failure to enforce Alaska hire appeared to violate his statutory duties.

“You don’t get to be judge, jury and executioner,” Wielechowski said. “It’s your job to defend the laws of the state of Alaska.”

In an attachment to the Wielechowski-Begich letter, legislative attorney Daniel Wayne said the local-hire law may be unconstitutional, but “because of the separation of powers doctrine, it is the province of the court, not the executive or legislative branch, to declare that a law is unconstitutional.”

Clarkson said if legislators want to encourage local hire, they can offer job-training programs and financial incentives for companies who hire Alaskans.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com