Now that voters have approved constitutional changes to the state's Public Regulation Commission, lawmakers have introduced bills that will spell out exactly how PRC reform will take place.
Senator Tim Keller and Representative Tom Taylor have introduced bills in each chamber to set qualifications for future Public Regulation Commission members. Both bills require a background in fields regulated by the PRC such as engineering, economics or consumer protection.
The Senate bill requires a college degree in the field and at least seven years work experience. The House bill requires either one or the other. Representative Tom Taylor says the PRC positions require a thorough understanding of the work being regulated. "It's a technical job. It requires a higher level of expertise, you know, than most people off the street would normally have."
But current commissioner Ben Hall, who was recently elected chairman by a majority of the five-member PRC, voiced the same concerns he's had since the measure was first placed on the November ballot. He says if PRC commissioners must have degrees, then so, too should legislators and other elected officials, "If you do this to the PRC - demand educational qualifications - who's next, is it the Legislature, is it the governor, is it the school boards, city council members, county commissions?"
Representative Taylor argues that the Legislature is different from the PRC. "If you look across our group of folks, you'll find people from geniuses to wherever, and uh, you know, in all different walks of life, so as a body we have a very good overall view. Um we have a lot of help in the process of writing laws and that sort of thing."
There is sure to be a lot of debate on the two bills before legislators vote on a final version. But Chairman Hall says since taking office several years ago, he has worked with other members to improve and streamline the agency, shortening the timeline for utility rate case decisions and making employees more accountable. He says regardless of the final legislation, the PRC will keep working to restore a positive public image of the agency that's been damaged by allegations of corruption.