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 received final legislative approval in the Senate today.
The bill, S-1899, 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.
“When the public’s interest is involved, it is important that BPU decisions are based on practices that promote transparency and ensure a timely exchange of information,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “What may have been the right decision three years ago may not necessarily be the best option for today’s economy and circumstances. This bill will ensure that decisions are made within a reasonable timeframe on matters that affect New Jersey’s residents.”
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.
“Major decisions such as rate increases by public utilities or competitive telecommunications services should be informed decisions, and based on information that is current and available to the public,” added Senator Whelan. “This will help tie off any loose ends to avoid history from repeating itself when it comes to decisions on any applications to increase rates charged to customers.”
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 38-0 and the Assembly by 76-0-0. It now heads to the Governor for consideration.