Public interest groups and citizens pressing for change could be forced to pay the state's legal costs if they lose cases, under a bill approved Tuesday by the Senate.
House Bill 145 was approved 12-8 along party lines, with all Republicans in support and all Democrats opposed.
Alaska is the only state in the nation that holds losing parties responsible for the winning side's attorneys fees and costs. But the law exempts public interest groups and citizens filing non-monetary cases challenging the decisions of state agencies.
House Bill 145 would do away with that exemption in all cases but those involving the state Constitution.
The bill grew out of concerns from Gov. Frank Murkowski's administration that environmental lawsuits were slowing economic development. The bill originally was intended to apply only to lawsuits filed against the departments of fish and game, natural resources or environmental conservation.
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