Bill to change utility rate appeals gets initial nod

2013-05-02T11:40:00Z 2013-05-02T20:31:12Z Bill to change utility rate appeals gets initial nodBy KEVIN O'HANLON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

A bill to streamline appeals of decisions by the Nebraska Public Service Commission overcame an eight-hour filibuster Thursday by several state lawmakers who said the measure would hamper the public's ability to challenge rate increases by utilities.

The Public Service Commission regulates utilities, telephone companies and taxi service, among other things.

Lawmakers gave 33-8 first-round approval to the bill (LB545) by Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton that would send appeals of PSC decisions from state district courts to the Nebraska Court of Appeals.

Opponents -- including Sens. Paul Schumacher of Columbus, Bill Avery of Lincoln and Burke Harr and Ernie Chambers of Omaha -- said it would be wrong to send appeals of rate increases and other decisions by the PSC to the Appeals Court because that court can only review the PSC's record on a decision. District courts are allowed to bring in special masters to decide complex cases, such as those from the PSC.

Opponents said the PSC has a too-cozy relationship with utilities, which generally account for the bulk of campaign contributions given to PSC members.

PSC Commissioner Frank Landis has said the bill is meant to reduce the overall cost of such appeals.

Dubas said her intent simply is to streamline the appeals process, because PSC lawyers are paid by the public. She denied the bill was introduced at the behest of entities the PSC oversees.

The bill faces two more rounds of consideration.

Reach Kevin O'Hanlon at 402-473-2682 or kohanlon@journalstar.com.

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