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AK AG: Hire statute is unconstitutional

JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska's long-standing hiring statute that gives preference to state residents was unconstitutional, the state attorney general said.

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson's opinion was released as a condition of a settlement against the state by construction firm Coalaska, the Juneau Empire reported Friday. The content of the opinion was not dictated as a term of the settlement, only that an opinion would be issued.

Coalaska, the state subsidiary of nationally operated Colas USA, filed the lawsuit against the state in July challenging the Alaska Hire statute, officials said. The statute allows companies to give preference to Alaska residents under certain circumstances when hiring for state public works projects.

The state must repay Coalaska the $50,000 the company incurred in fines in 2019 for violations of the statute dating back to 2017, Clarkson said.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy decided to settle with the company instead of spending limited state resources to fight what Clarkson called a losing battle.

Alaska Hire is tailored to not violate either the U.S. or state constitutions, critics said. It only applies to state projects operating in a previously defined zone of underemployment.

"There's been a law on the books since 1986," said Democratic Anchorage Rep. Zach Fields. "Mike Dunleavy, as soon as someone files a lawsuit, he caves."

There is a pattern coming out of the Dunleavy administration of attacking workers' rights, Fields said.

The governor and his administration did not disagree with the goals of Alaska Hire and encouraged businesses to hire Alaska residents, but a law which mandates they do so was "clearly unconstitutional," Clarkson said.