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Eastern Kentuckians lead General Assembly in taking aim at Public Service Commission

Editor's Note: The House Committee today debated the bill discussed below, but took no action on it according to a report in the Lexington Herald Leader. Click on "more" at the bottom of this page to access their story.

Senate Bill 151 would change the make up of the Public Service Commission drastically, replacing the three appointed commissioners with seven elected  members. The legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 29-5.

The three senators who sponsored the bill are all Democrats and all from Eastern Kentucky. The Senate, controlled by the Republicans, doesn’t see many bills introduced by Democrats get such overwhelming approval. 

It has gone to the House Tourism Development and Energy Committee chaired by a fellow Eastern Kentuckian Rep. Leslie Combs.

Representatives Keith Hall and Hubert Collins, also of Eastern Kentucky, introduced House Concurrent Resolution 124 which will study the proposal to elect PSC commissioners. (See below). A similar amendment to study the idea was voted down in the Senate.

Opponents to the bill say that electing commissioners will inject big money politics into the process. Proponents say that voters have little say in the process of rate setting. By law the Kentucky Attorney General represents citizens.

Rate increases in electric, water and natural gas granted by the PSC in recent years have hit virtually every county in Kentucky.

With the Legislature winding down, the fates of SB 151 and HCR 124 remain up in the air. Whether they pass this session or not, it is clear that the General Assembly is expressing its displeasure with the PSC.

To weigh in on the discussion, contact the Legislature by email by going to the right hand column of the Legislative Research Commission homepage and clicking on “email your legislator" or by calling 1-800-372-7181 and leaving a message.

SB 151 (BR 1207) - R. Jones II, J. Turner, W. Blevins Jr.
     AN ACT relating to Public Service Commission members.
     Amend KRS 278.050 to expand membership of the Public Service Commission (PSC) from three to seven commissioners, one for each U.S. Congressional District and one for the state at large, who shall be elected for staggered four year terms beginning with the next regular election in even-numbered years for terms of four years, to begin on the first day of January of the year succeeding their election as follows: At the regular election to be held in November 2012, and every four years thereafter, there shall be elected for a term of four years one member of the Public Service Commission in each odd-numbered Congressional District and one state-at-large member in which the term of his or her predecessor in office will expire; and at the regular election to be held in November 2014, and every four years thereafter, there shall be elected for a term of four years one member of the Public Service Commission in each even-numbered Congressional District in which the term of his or her predecessor in office will then expire; provide that each member of the commission for retirement purposes shall be eligible to membership in the Kentucky Employees Retirement System as set forth in KRS 61.515 to 61.705 and the at-large commission member and a commission member designated by the Governor shall serve as co-chairs of the Public Service Commission; require that the Governor to appoint a new member of the commission to fill any vacancy; provide that all appointments made to the Public Service Commission by the Governor prior to or subsequent to the effective date of this Act shall expire on January 1, 2013; amend KRS 278.060 to require that each commissioner, including the at-large commission member, be a resident and qualified voter of this state and be no less than 25 years of age at the time of his or her election and shall have resided in this state and in his or her Congressional District for no less than three years prior to his or her election and shall not be qualified to run for commissioner if he or she holds any official relationship to any utility, or owns stocks or bonds thereof, or who has any pecuniary interest therein for three years prior to his or her election; require that members of the Public Service Commission be subject to the Executive Branch Code of Ethics in accordance with KRS 11A.001 to 11A.990; amend KRS 11A.010 to conform.

HCR 124 (BR 1637) - K. Hall, H. Collins

     Create a Task Force on the feasibility of elected Public Service Commissioners; increase the number of commissioners from three to six, with one commissioner for each U.S. Congressional District, with the concurrence of both the House and the Senate; direct the task force to survey the experiences of states that have elected public service commissioners and compare those with the experiences of other states for which the Governor appoints commissioners; establish task force membership to consist of three members of the Kentucky Senate appointed by the Senate President and three members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House; provide that the Senate President shall select one co-chair from the appointed senators, and the Speaker of the House shall select one co-chair from the appointed representatives; authorize the task force to consult with the State Board of Elections regarding the financing of an elected Public Service Commission and shall make recommendations regarding the feasibility of an expanded PSC; require the task force to meet periodically during the interim at the call of the task force co-chairs and require the task force to submit a final report of its recommendations no later than December 1, 2011; to authorize LRC to alternatively assign the issues identified herein to a committee or subcommittee and designate a study completion date.


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