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Alaska Statute Title 29 is the law enacted by the Alaska State Legislature that governs the organization, powers, and activities of local government. Although other state laws affect local governments, most of the statutes that provide guidance or tell a local government what it can and cannot do are found in Title 29. State and local officials should be familiar with the general content of Title 29 and should review Title 29 and other available resources before enacting local laws or policies and procedures.
The Alaska constitution provides for a 'liberal construction' of the powers of local governments, which essentially means if an act isn't prohibited in law, a local government is probably free to act on the matter. This is very different from the situation in some other states where local governments have only those powers the state legislature expressly gives to them. The Commerce Local Government Handbook section on Legal Requirements - Alaska State Law and Title 29 provides additional information on what is covered in Title 29 and other laws affecting local governments.
How do I look something up in the statutes?
First, make sure you are looking at the most current version of the law you are researching and that you have examined any annual supplements containing recently adopted laws. The Alaska Statutes are updated every year after the legislative session to incorporate any recent laws enacted by the legislature. A law generally takes effect 90 days after it becomes law (is signed by the governor or is enacted into law after the lapse of the period for governor's action found in the Article II, Section 17 of the state's constitution), unless another effective date is specifically provided. Copies of Alaska Statutes may be found at a Legislative Information Office, a library, or on the Legislative web page.
Title 29, like all of the Alaska Statutes, is organized according to a numbering system of chapter and section headings. As an example, the statute limiting the powers of a home rule municipality is found in Title 29, Chapter 10, Section 200 (or AS 29.10.200.)
Footnotes and annotations follow many provisions and advise the reader about recent changes, legislative history, and Alaska Supreme Court cases that have discussed the provision. AS 01.10.020-.110 provides information on rules of statutory construction, the date the statute takes effect, definitions, and the affect of amendments and repealing statutes. Volume 1 contains a user's guide with additional information on reading the statutes and annotations and Volume 12 contains a subject index. It is a good idea when researching the statutes to also check the subject index to the Alaska Statutes to make sure there is not a law in a title other than Title 29 that might apply.
What if I can't find any provision in law that clarifies an issue of local government authority?
If Title 29 says nothing on the subject and no other law seems to apply then the local government is most likely within its authority to enact its own law, regulation, or policy to address the issue. The State Legislature cannot address every possible issue that a local government might need to deal with. The drafters of the Alaska Constitution recognized this fact and adopted an approach to local government authority that simply states that the powers of local governments are to be given a "liberal construction." Essentially, this means local governments in Alaska may exercise all implied powers and functions not prohibited by the law. (AS 29.35.410)
What if a municipal ordinance says something different than Title 29 or another law?
If an ordinance conflicts with a higher authority, such as state or federal law, such that a person cannot obey state or federal law without violating the ordinance, or obey the ordinance without violating another law, then the ordinance is invalid and cannot be enforced. In some cases a local ordinance can be more restrictive than the law of a higher authority unless the law specifically prohibits more restrictive ordinances or a more restrictive local ordinance would undermine the purpose of the law.
What if a municipal ordinance was passed without following the procedure required by Title 29?
The ordinance is invalid and cannot be enforced. Title 29 sets out some very specific requirements for the passage of an ordinance. These requirements include notice and public hearing and specific timelines for when each must occur (AS 29.25.020). Only a home rule municipality can, within certain limitations, adopt a procedure for passing an ordinance that is different from the requirements of Title 29. AS 29.10.200 sets out certain limitations on home rule enactments.
What if the governing body of a municipality authorized a certain action by resolution that Title 29 says must be authorized by ordinance?
The action authorized by resolution is void and will have no force or effect until authorized by ordinance. Home rule municipalities may be exempt from having to authorize some actions by ordinance.
Where can I find or get copies of Title 29?
Title 29 is just one part of the larger set of Alaska Statutes. Most public libraries, legislative information offices, and the offices of most state agencies have copies of the full set of published Alaska Statutes. Title 29 can also be found on the Internet on Commerce's LOGON home page or see the link to Current Alaska Statutes on the State Legislature's "Folio InfoBase" web page.
Are municipal ordinances enacted prior to the 1985 changes in Title 29 valid?
More than likely ordinances enacted prior to 1985 are still valid because most of the changes made to Title 29 were not designed to restrict the powers of municipalities. If a municipality has not updated its code of ordinances since 1985, it may have ordinances that are more restrictive than they need to be because they were designed to comply with the older version of Title 29.
Title 29 is organized into 17 chapters that address the following eight major subject areas:
Although other state laws affect local government operations, it is mainly through Title 29 that the State of Alaska governs and exercises its authority over local governments. Title 29 can, however, be as important for what it doesn't say as for what it does say, because of the liberal construction provision of Alaska's Constitution.
The Local Government Handbook section on Legal Requirements - Alaska State Law and Title 29 discusses several provisions of Title 29 where limits have been placed on the powers of local government. It is always a good idea to check that no other state laws or regulations prohibit or suggest limitations on the power of local government.
Every so often the Alaska Legislature completely revises and updates provisions of Alaska's Statutes. This was last done with Title 29 in 1985. It is important when reviewing a local ordinance to determine whether the ordinance predates the 1985 changes in Title 29. If so, it may be that the ordinance is no longer valid, or more likely the ordinance is more restrictive than required by Title 29 after the 1985 changes were enacted.