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Bill gives Legislature some control of utility regulators

corporation-commission

The Arizona Corporation Commission may be the next branch of government that legislators can force the Attorney General to investigate. 

Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, the new Legislative District 16 representative who formerly worked as Commissioner Justin Olson’s assistant, introduced a bill that is tailored to the commission that is identical to a 2016 law that allows lawmakers to require the attorney general to investigate alleged violations of Arizona law or the Constitution by municipalities.

Her HB2737 would also withhold 10% of the commission’s budget if the attorney general found a violation and the commission refused to make a change. 

One commissioner believes Parker is getting her marching orders from either the governor or Olson. 

The commission voted to take a neutral stance on the measure, Commissioner Anna Tovar told Arizona Capitol Times on February 1 after commissioners met to discuss the legislation. Tovar said she and Commissioner Sandra Kennedy, both Democrats, are opposed, while Olson and Commissioner Jim O’Connor, both Republicans, support the bill. 

Tovar said Republican Chairwoman Lea Marquez Peterson had some issues with some of the provisions, especially one that would allow only 30 days for the  attorney general to complete a full investigation and the commission to fix any violations. 

“I think [the sponsors] are getting a directive from the governor,” Tovar said. “I mean, when [Gov. Doug Ducey] openly states what he wishes to happen at a chamber luncheon, I think it’s clear where he is giving his orders in regards to what he wants to see happen at the Arizona Corporation Commission.”

Parker was not immediately available for comment and a Ducey spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Jacqueline Parker

Jacqueline Parker

At the Jan. 8 Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry 2021 Legislative Forecast Luncheon, Ducey said the commission should stick to setting rates and let the Legislature set energy policy. And he indicated his displeasure that many consider the commission the fourth branch of Arizona government, saying  there are only three branches and it should remain that way. 

Ducey has had his grievances with the commission in the past and he’s also put his stamp on it. He appointed three commissioners since 2017, with Olson and Marquez Peterson still serving in their current roles. 

Ducey said in 2019 the commission was going beyond its constitutional authority to set rates. He called it “a bit of mission creep” when some commissioners sought to revamp rules on when a utility can cut off service after the death of a 72-year-old customer of Arizona Public Service whose power was turned off in the middle of summer because she only paid part of her bill.  

In response, Kennedy said Ducey should read the Constitution, because “he doesn’t understand [it].”

Ducey also questioned whether the commission should be allowed to set energy policy like it did more than a decade ago when it approved rules requiring utilities to generate at least 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2025, but not including nuclear. After adding a second Democrat in Tovar this year, further changes were becoming reality, which is why the Legislature also introduced mirror bills stripping away some of the commission’s authority to accomplish this goal. The commission also took a neutral stance, but Kennedy and Tovar are in opposition as individuals. .

Tovar said she will do the same for HB2737. 

Tovar pointed to Olson as another possible source for the bill, noting that Parker worked for him before being elected. 

Anna Tovar

Anna Tovar

“At some point, you got to think someone is spoon-feeding her language to put into a bill,” Tovar said. 

She called the governor and Republican commissioners “sore losers,” and said she thinks Ducey is in favor of stripping away some of the commission’s power now that she flipped one seat and a Democratic agenda is closer to a reality.

Tovar believes the bill is overall unconstitutional, and said even after the commission proposes an amendment to fix some of the language Marquez Peterson was against she still won’t support it. 

Similarly to the process of SB 1487, which became law in 2016 after then-Senate President Andy Biggs introduced the measure that would affect cities and towns, every city or town that made their stance known was opposed, but the bill still passed on party lines and Ducey signed it. The commission taking a neutral stance likely keeps the bill alive. 

It’s currently scheduled to be heard in the House Natural Resources, Energy & Water committee today, but given a potential amendment, could be held from any discussion until details are hammered out.

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