Attorney general explains his opinion on the Alaska Hire law

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson reads summaries of three constitutional amendments proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to reporters at a press conference in the Capitol in Juneau on Jan. 30, 2019.
Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson reads summaries of three constitutional amendments proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in January. On Friday, he explained a legal opinion he released on Thursday that holds that the Alaska Hire law is unconstitutional. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson on Friday explained his legal opinion released a day earlier that the Alaska Hire law is unconstitutional.

Clarkson said the opinion is in response to a lawsuit challenging the law.

“We took a hard look at it, and we determined that, you know, there was no way for the statute to survive a constitutional challenge that was being made,” Clarkson said in a phone call with reporters. “And so, rather than expend … limited state resources defending a law we knew was going to be struck down again, we issued a decision to that effect.”

Clarkson referred to the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision Hicklin v. Orbeck and two Alaska Supreme Court decisions — Robison v. Francis in 1986 and State v. Enserch Alaska in 1989 — that had invalidated earlier versions of Alaska Hire. The law requires private contractors working on state-funded projects to hire qualified Alaskans as a percentage of their workers.

“The governor and his administration certainly encourage and promote the hiring of Alaskans for jobs in Alaska,” Clarkson said. “But the problem is that the U.S. and Alaska constitutions make it clear that you cannot have a law that mandates the hiring of Alaskans in preference over others.”

Colaska Inc., doing business as SECON, sued the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development on July 12 to bar it from enforcing the law. Colaska is a subsidiary of the French road-building company Colas Group.

Alaska Hire supporters have said the law was crafted to comply with court decisions.

David Guttenberg is a retired laborer who represented a Fairbanks area seat in the Alaska House of Representatives for 16 years. He also served as political director for the Fairbanks Central Labor Council and said the Alaska Hire issue brought him into politics.

“I wish the attorney general and the governor were finding reasons to hire Alaskans, instead of not hiring Alaskans,” he said.

Guttenberg said Clarkson and Dunleavy are union busting.

“Nobody benefits (from) this except the extreme right-wing, anti-worker agenda,” he said.

Clarkson said it will be up to other state departments to decide how to use his opinion. The state hasn’t announced whether it will stop enforcing the law.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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