Alaskans who fight industrial development with lawsuits will have to think twice about whether they can afford to lose if a proposal before the state legislature becomes law.
HB47, sponsored by Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, aims to curtail the practice of some who might ask the courts to stop or put a project on hold just because they don’t like it.
The intent of the legislation is to “level playing field, and put those who file those suits on notice that they too have financial consequences,” Feige told the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday.
The bill discourages individuals from using lawsuits as stall tactics by instructing judges to consider making the plaintiff liable for the companies’ financial losses — such as wages owed to workers and lease fees on borrowed equipment — that stem from delayed projects.
Currently, plaintiffs can be required to post a bond prior to an injunction order is issued that is forfeited if they lose the case. This bill does not specify how large a bond must be — or that a bond must be issued.
“The court continues to have full discretion,” Feige said.
Critics of the bill call it a silencer for most Alaskans who will view the potential costs as prohibitive. Municipalities and state agencies are exempted from being required to submit bonds in these cases.
“If I want to petition the court to stop something that’s affecting me and my backyard — wherever that backyard may be in the state of Alaska — I now have to have potentially millions of dollars that I can secure,” said James Sullivan, the legislative organizer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “That basically knocks out about 99 percent of Alaskans.”
Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage previously called the bill a “gag order” because the potential costs are “an amount of money that could bankrupt most Alaskans.”
“They’re not going to stand up to defend their rights,” he added.
When it passed the House floor earlier this month, supporters said the bill is aimed at stopping frivolous lawsuits being employed to stop a project that has already met rigorous permitting standards.
Committee chair Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, said that determining what damages to the company are and how those figures are tabulated needs to happen.
Limited by time Monday, the committee took no other testimony on the bill, but Coghill said it would be brought up again.