Richard Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News reported that Alaska's state senate passed a bill Wednesday to raise the bar for Alaskans who want to stop industrial or construction projects in court, directing judges to consider lost employee wages and contractor payments when setting a bond in an injunction case.
The Senate vote was 14-6 after Democrats tried to change the bill with nine amendments, including one that would exempt the proposed Pebble project from the law. All but one of the amendments failed, including the one on Pebble, which picked up only a single Republican vote, that of Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.
Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said without the exemption, someone who wanted to challenge the Pebble project and stop it with an injunction, if only temporarily, might have to put up a billion dollar bond under the bill, House Bill 47.
Democrats said the bill creates improper barriers to Alaskans who want access to the courts to prevent a wrong. Republicans said it will make plaintiffs think twice before challenging a development that helps the economy and provides jobs.
The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, at the start of the 28th Legislature in 2013. It languished in the House until February, when it suddenly picked up steam. It passed the House 26-12 on March 12 and was referred to a single Senate committee. Because of the one amendment, accepted without objection on the Senate floor, the bill will have to go back to the House for concurrence before going to Gov. Sean Parnell for his signature.
In a recent interview, Feige said his inspiration for the bill was an environmental lawsuit years ago that temporarily shut down Shell's offshore exploration in the Arctic Ocean, which cost him a job as a pilot. That lawsuit was brought in federal court, which is unaffected by the bill, and Feige acknowledged that most injunctions against industrial projects are issued by federal judges.
At a House hearing in February, a representative of the state court system, Nancy Meade, said that in the last five years, only two or three such cases were brought in state court.