Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/28/2003 01:20 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
          SB  97-ATTY FEES: PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGANTS                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR SEEKINS  announced SB 97  to be up for  consideration. This                                                               
bill  primarily provides  that  in a  civil  action contesting  a                                                               
decision  of   the  Department  of   Environmental  Conservation,                                                               
attorney's  fees  may not  be  awarded  to  or against  a  public                                                               
interest litigant as  provided in Rule 82(g) in  the Alaska Rules                                                               
of Civil  Procedure. This  would be,  in effect,  on the  floor a                                                               
vote for a direct court rule amendment.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  FRENCH  said  he  noticed  the  small  amount  of  money                                                               
involved. He  came up with $718,000  over the course of  a decade                                                               
for public interest  litigants in the natural  resources area and                                                               
that's about enough to pay one  person $70,000 per year to be the                                                               
one member of  the public who challenges the  government on their                                                               
public resources front.  Another point is in  the final paragraph                                                               
of the  fiscal note. The  idea to  somehow provide legal  fees to                                                               
these folks  drives litigation and  makes people file  cases they                                                               
wouldn't otherwise file. None of the  cases have been found to be                                                               
frivolous,  which  may not  be  the  best measure.  However,  the                                                               
fiscal note says  they have not been able to  find objective data                                                               
to indicate  whether or  not the public  interest exception  is a                                                               
primary  motivation  for  parties  to  litigate  public  interest                                                               
issues.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR SEEKINS  responded that  the $70,000 is  only one  facet of                                                               
what  they are  considering,  because Senator  French is  looking                                                               
only  at  the  amounts  that  were  awarded  to  public  interest                                                               
litigants, not  the amount of money  the state had to  spend that                                                               
the  public interest  litigants may  have had  to pay  the state.                                                               
Subjective  data  indicated  and  a   number  of  people  in  the                                                               
Department of  Law felt that  cases were being brought  by public                                                               
interest litigants  to harass and  delay, which cost the  state a                                                               
tremendous  amount of  money. Testimony  from the  companies that                                                               
were  delayed  also  indicated that  they  incurred  millions  of                                                               
dollars  in losses  in  terms of  appreciation  on equipment  and                                                               
additional  time  necessary  to bring  worthwhile  and  permitted                                                               
projects to the extraction phases.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR OGAN noted the cost to  the treasury, as well, that comes                                                               
from companies being discouraged to even do business here.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  SEEKINS commented  that Alaska  is the  only state  with a                                                               
Rule 82  type of provision,  which causes higher  insurance rates                                                               
and  he thought  providing  an  exemption to  the  state in  this                                                               
category was reasonable.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
2:50 p.m.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR OGAN moved  to pass SB 97 from  committee with individual                                                               
recommendations  and the  attached  fiscal  notes. SENATOR  ELLIS                                                               
objected.  Senators  Therriault,  Ogan  and  Seekins  voted  yea;                                                               
Senators  Ellis  and French  voted  nay;  and  SB 97  moved  from                                                               
committee.                                                                                                                      

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