Measure To Require Calif PUC Elections Moves To Senate Floor

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Dow Jones International News Service

LOS ANGELES — A California Senate committee Wednesday approved a measure that would ask voters to decide if board members of the state’s Public Utilities Commission should be elected, rather than appointed by the governor.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 6 by Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, would limit commissioners to two four-year terms, with the first election to be held in autumn 2006, said Scott Johnson, chief counsel for the Consitutional Amendments committee. The measure passed that committee 3-2 Wednesday, he said.

If the proposed amendment is approved by the legislature, it must then garner a majority of votes in the next statewide election, which at present is set for March 2004.

The amendment calls for the legislature to create seven districts, with one commissioner elected from each district. Newly elected commissioners would begin their terms on Jan. 1, 2007.

Currently, there are five members on the commission board who are appointed by the governor for staggered six-year terms. The appointees must then be approved by the majority of the Senate.

Battin’s amendment would also bar any entity that is regulated by the commission from making campaign contributions. The commission regulates privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications water and transportation companies.

The measure now goes to the Senate floor, where it must pass by 27 votes, or a two-thirds majority. A Senate vote is likely within a week, Johnson said. The measure must also pass the Assembly by a two-thirds vote, but does not require Gov. Gray Davis‘ signature to become law, he said.

Consumer advocates said the measure’s passage was good news, especially because it includes the provision barring certain campaign contributions.

“Our one concern was that the measure protect the public from the power industry taking over the elections, and indeed, Sacramento lawmakers agreed with that concern,” said Doug Heller, spokesman for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “The PUC has more direct impact on the public than any other agency or public officials in the state. We need an independently-elected commission.”
Jessica Berthold, Dow Jones Newswires; 323-658-3872; [email protected]

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