Efficiency and open government at the PUC

The Public Utilities Commission is asking the Legislature to define what activities they do are subject to open meetings laws — and what is not.

Current law with regards to the PUC and open meetings is short and direct:

Every vote and official action of the Public Utilities Commission shall be entered of record and its proceedings shall be open to the public as prescribed in chapter 1-25.

Senate Bill 223 would change that to read:

Every vote and official action of the Public Utilities Commission shall be entered of record. The proceedings of the Public Utilities Commission are open to the public as prescribed in chapter 1-25 when the Public Utilities Commission is exercising its regulatory or adjudicatory authority pursuant to Title 49

It also adds a new section to follow:

However, the Public Utilities Commission is not subject to the requirements of chapter 1-25 when one or more commissioners are meeting among themselves or staff to discuss the internal management of the Public Utilities Commission regarding such things as:

  1. Planning or developing activities or proposed legislation;
  2. Organizing the internal structure of the Public Utilities Commission;
  3. Selecting, appointing, promoting, removing or managing personnel;
  4. Developing reports; or
  5. Developing budgets and expending funds.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. David Lust and Sen. Corey Brown at the request of the PUC. Is the PUC trying to more some of its activities out of public view?

"Absolutely not," said Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson.

Everything the PUC currently does in public will remain in public, Nelson said. This bill will allow discussions that, he said, currently aren’t taking place.

"I’m thinking, well, I should go to Commissioner Hanson… and ask him about (a recent issue)," Nelson said. "He’s sitting in the room right next to me, the office right next to me. And yet, under today’s rule, I can’t do that. I can’t ask him a simple question."

These conversations have “nothing to do with the official dockets that come before the agency,” he said.

"What this bill does is say that those kind of conversations that aren’t happening today, in order to make us better servants of the people, help to make sure we’re doing the best job we can for the people, that we can in fact have those kind of conversations," he said.

Do you agree this bill would make the PUC more efficient without hurting open government?