TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan that would require the Board of Public Utilities to render decisions on cases within 12 months of final public hearings advanced in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.
The bill, S-3145, would require the Board of Public Utilities to adopt a final decision or order within 12 months of a final public hearing held to determine whether a telecommunications service is a competitive service and on any applications to increase rates charged by public utilities to their customers. If the BPU has not adopted a final decision or order within 12 months of a final public hearing on an issue, the board would be required to hold an additional public hearing before adopting a final decision or order.
Under the bill, the BPU would also be prohibited from making a determination unless a public hearing has been held in the previous 12 months. The same requirements would apply in the event that the board reclassified any telecommunications service.
“The legislation was drafted in an effort to promote transparency and ensure a timely exchange of information on BPU decisions that ultimately impact residents,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “With every year, technology advances and the economy changes. What was the right decision three years ago may not be the right decision today. When the public’s interest is involved, it is not only important to examine and re-examine the issues at hand but to do so within a reasonable timeframe.”
The bill stems from an incident that came to the public’s attention in May 2015 when the BPU voted unanimously to loosen regulations governing traditional landline telephone service, allowing Verizon to deregulate its basic telephone service on copper-wire lines. The BPU had not held a public hearing in three years on the issue. This bill would ensure that a public hearing is held within at least 12 months of a final vote by the board
“Such major decisions as rate increases by public utilities or competitive telecommunications services should be informed decisions. And the information upon which they are based, prior to any vote being held, should be current and available to the public,” added Senator Whelan. “This bill will help avoid mistakes of the past to be repeated.”
The bill was released from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee by a vote of 13-0. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.