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Explanation of Alaska Statutes: Title 29

Introduction

Alaska Statutes Title 29 are laws enacted by the Alaska State Legislature that govern the organization, powers, and activities of local government. Although other State laws affect local governments, most of the statutes that provide guidance to a local government, or tell them 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 these statutes and other available resources before enacting local laws, policies, or procedures.

The Alaska Constitution provides for a 'liberal construction' of the powers of local governments. This essentially means that if an act isn't prohibited in law, a local government is probably free to do it. 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.

Narrative

Title 29 is organized into 17 chapters that address the following eight major subject areas:

  • Organization of municipal government - Chapters 3 through 6
  • Home rule municipalities - Chapter 10
  • Routine operations of municipal government - Chapters 20, 25, and 26
  • Municipal powers and duties - Chapter 35
  • Municipal planning, platting, and land use regulation - Chapter 40
  • Municipal taxation, special assessments, and debt - Chapters 45 through 47
  • State assistance to municipalities - Chapters 60 and 65
  • General provisions - Chapter 71
  • Although other State laws in other titles of statute affect local government operations, it is mainly through Title 29 that the State of Alaska sets the rules for, and exercises its authority over, local governments. Title 29 can, nonetheless, 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. 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.

    The Alaska Legislature made major revisions to Title 29 back in 1985. It is important when reviewing a local ordinance to determine whether it predates the 1985 changes in Title 29. If so, it may be that the ordinance is no longer valid because it conflicts with the newer rules in Title 29. It is also possible that an older ordinance is more restrictive than is now required by Title 29.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How do I look something up in state 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 to incorporate any laws newly enacted by the State Legislature. A law generally takes effect 90 days after it is signed by the Governor, or after is ‘automatically’ enacted into law if it isn’t either signed or vetoed by the Governor in the time frame found in the Article II, Section 17 of the State Constitution; however, another effective date may be specifically provided by the relevant enacting legislation. Copies of Alaska Statutes may be found at a Legislative Information Office, a library, or on line.

    Title 29, like all of the titles of 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 cited as AS 29.10.200.).

    Footnotes and annotations follow many statute provisions, and advise the reader about recent changes, legislative history, and Alaska Supreme Court rulings that relate to the provision. Another title of Alaska Statutes, Title 1, sets the rules for how all State statutes, including those in Title 20, 'behave'. For example, AS 01.10.020-.110 provides information on rules of statutory construction, the date the statute takes effect, definitions, and the effect 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 statutes to also check the subject index to the Alaska Statutes, making sure there is not a law in a title other outside of Title 29 that might apply to the topic you're researching.

    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 you're researching, and if no other law elsewhere seems to apply, then the local government is might be 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. Indeed, 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'. As noted earlier here in the FAQs, this essentially means local governments in Alaska may exercise all implied powers and functions not otherwise prohibited by the law (see 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 legally enforced by the municipality. In some cases, a local ordinance can be more restrictive than the law of a higher authority; it cannot do so, however, if the higher (State or federal) law specifically prohibits more restrictive ordinances or if a more restrictive local ordinance would undermine the purpose of that higher law.

    What if a municipal ordinance was passed without following the procedure required by Title 29?

    The ordinance is invalid and cannot be legally enforced. Title 29 sets out some very specific requirements for the passage of an ordinance. Title 29 requires notice of and a public hearing on the ordinance, for example, and sets 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, however, 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 (the laws of the State of Alaska). Most public libraries, Legislative Information Offices (LIOs), and offices of State agencies have copies of the full set of published Alaska Statutes. Title 29, as part of all the state laws, can be found in '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. However, 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.

    Additional Resources

    Publications

    • Fisher, Victor. The Alaska Constitutional Convention. University of Alaska Press (1975)
    • Title 29

    Recommended web site search topics

    • Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development (Commerce)
    • Division of Community and Regional Affairs
    • Alaska Statutes
    • Alaska Regulations
    • Alaska Department of Law
    • Alaska Constitution
    Applicable Laws

    Alaska Constitution

    • Article II, Section 17 Bills not signed; enactment.
    • Article II, Section 18 Effective date of enacted laws.
    • Article X, Section 1 Purpose, liberal construction, local self-government, local government units.
    • Article X, Section 14 Agency to advise and assist local governments.

    Alaska Statutes

    • AS 01.10.020-.110 Rules of statutory construction, date statute takes effect, definitions, effect of amendments and repealing statutes.
    • AS 29.10.200 Limitation of home rule powers.
    • AS 29.35.400-.420 General construction, extent of powers, enumeration of powers.

    Revised 12/30/2014