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Supreme Court Hears City Labor Ordinance Debate

By Adam Pinsker, Multimedia Political Reporter, apinsker@ktuu.com
Published On: Jan 08 2014 11:43:04 PM AKST
Updated On: Jan 08 2014 11:44:49 PM AKST

AO37 in front of Supreme Court on 1.8.2014

ANCHORAGE -

The city’s controversial labor law overhaul known as AO-37, and Mayor Sullivan's veto on when the public votes on it, was heard before the Alaska Supreme Court Wednesday.

Counsel for the plaintiff says Anchorage's charter makes it clear that voters have the right to trigger initiative repeals, such as the one successfully launched against AO-37.

The labor law, passed by a Anchorage Assembly in March, was the target of a recall petition that collected more than 22,000 signatures in September.

The signatures mean a vote on the labor ordinance will go before voters, but Mayor Dan Sullivan sued to block the repeal. A lower court ruled against the city, and the mayor asked the state Supreme Court to settle the question.

Attorneys for both sides—and the court itself—debated Wednesday how Anchorage's charter should be interpreted.

"This ordinance in its entirety, makes new law that fundamentally shifts the balance of power between labor and management in the Anchorage area, and that's what we're asking the public to vote on,” said Susan Orlansky, the attorney representing the petition backers.

Counsel for the city countered that just because there is a referendum clause in the charter doesn't mean it should apply to everything.

"I don't think that would preclude the idea that there are subject matter limitations on referendum and initiative that emanate as a matter of common law or from the charter itself,” said Michael Gatti, who is representing the city.

The court has almost a month to make a decision, as ballots for the spring election must be finalized by February 10.

A separate legal challenge over whether Mayor Sullivan can veto the date of a special election for the repeal of the ordinance rests in the hands of a superior court judge.