Time may be running out for utility surcharge bill

State Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said time may be running out for passage this year of the proposed electric utilities surcharge law.

If passed, it would allow Missouri’s three regulated electric companies to make repairs to their infrastructure, then add the costs of those repairs to customers’ bills — even though the state Public Service Commission had not held a full rate case on the proposal.

“I’m not certain we’re going to be able to move forward with it, frankly,” Dempsey, R-St. Charles, told reporters Thursday afternoon. “But we’re still talking about it.”

Dempsey’s comment came a day after the PSC said it would cancel a planned April 8 hearing on the proposed law.

State Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, on March 15 asked for the PSC hearing, under terms of a state law that last was changed in 1939.

That law says the commission “shall conduct a hearing and take testimony relative to any pending legislation with respect to any person, corporation or matter within the jurisdiction of the commission, if requested to do so by the legislature or by either branch thereof or by the governor.”

The commission opened a separate case for the hearing and asked for comments through next Monday. When they decided Wednesday to cancel the April 8 hearing, they said they would respond to Schmitt’s six questions next week.

Dempsey said he asked the commission last week to stop the hearing, after the PSC had scheduled it, because: “If the PSC was going to deem a request ‘of the Legislature’ as a request by one individual, I just wanted them to understand the precedent they were setting.”

If one lawmaker could trigger the 74-year-old law, he said, “There are 197 legislators who would each have that authority (to ask for a hearing) on any bill that falls under the purview of the PSC.”

And, because the law says the commission “shall conduct a hearing,” Dempsey said, “the PSC would have no discretion over any (future) legislator request, were they to go forward with that (April 8) hearing.”

Dempsey noted he’s a co-sponsor of Sen. Mike Kehoe’s original bill — and isn’t against the idea of the PSC being involved in a discussion of bills that impact its work.

“That’s a discussion we should have had in January or February,” he said.

If the PSC had held its April 8 hearing, it had promised a report to lawmakers by April 17. But that left only 41⁄2 weeks until the required end of this year’s session.

“You start getting into how does that affect the feasibility of the legislation getting through the process?” Dempsey asked.

“This bill is not being rammed through,” he said. “I know there is some apprehension in the (Senate’s 24-member Republican) caucus about moving forward, if we can’t get to a level of comfort on the consumer protections.”

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