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 was signed into law today.
The law, S-1899, requires 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 is now required to hold an additional public hearing before adopting a final decision or order.
Under the law, the BPU is also 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.
“Providing the public with information and engaging them in the conversation when considering changes to services and rates should be standard operating procedure,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “This law will ensure that major decisions are communicated with clarity to the public and offer residents the opportunity to participate in the discussion.”
The law 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 law would ensure that a public hearing is held within at least 12 months of a final vote by the board.
“Decisions must be made based on timely information and on practices that promote transparency,” added Senator Whelan. “I am pleased the governor signed this commonsense legislation into law.”
The law takes effect immediately.