ACLU, Assembly chairman to address public hearing rules

rshinohara@adn.comMarch 27, 2013 

— The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska believes Tuesday night's Assembly vote on a rewrite of city labor law was improper due to the way public testimony was handled but will hold off on legal action, ACLU executive director Jeffrey Mittman said Wednesday.

Mittman said that's because Assembly chairman Ernie Hall has assured the ACLU he will sponsor an ordinance within 30 days to set clear standards on when public hearings will be closed.

"That's correct," Hall said in an interview. "I'm definitely going to get into city code clarity on how we handle public testimony."

He said he's anxious to get provisions put into code "so this question never arises again."

The Assembly Tuesday night approved a rewrite of city labor laws that diminishes the power of city unions -- and is hugely controversial.

There had been four five-hour public hearings on the issue.

Before the last one on March 11, the Assembly voted to shut down public testimony at 11 p.m. March 11. An opinion from the city attorney's office said that would be legal.

But Mittman warned the Assembly that in the view of the ACLU, the city charter guarantees everyone present and waiting to testify the right to testify.

At 11 p.m. March 11, many people were still standing in line waiting to testify, and the Assembly did close the hearing without letting them speak.

"Rather than immediately proceed with litigation, the ACLU is willing to delay action based on specific assurances that the Assembly will address this situation within the next 30 days," the ACLU said in a written statement Wednesday.

"Our focus is always on the free speech issue," Mittman said. "That's what we want fixed."

"We understand people are upset about AO-37 (the labor law rewrite). But what we have to focus on is the constitutional issues," he said.

Hall said he and Mittman agreed on a process that would work like this: For any issue that's drawing extensive public testimony, people would come to the Assembly for the first hearing and put their names on a list to testify. "You extend testimony long enough to hear from them," Hall said.

That may not be exactly what the public testimony law will say, but the plan will provide a clear process and a consistent way of handling public hearings, Hall said.

 

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

 

 

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