SJR 45: Joint Subcommittee Studying
the Responsibilities, Policies and Activities of the State Corporation
September 17, 2002
The joint subcommittee held
its first meeting of the interim to review the status of the State Corporation
Commission's (SCC) implementation of the recommendations contained
in reports of the consultant hired by the joint subcommittee (the GMU
Report) and the consultant hired by the SCC (the Wirick Report).
The director of the Division
of Information Resources presented the joint subcommittee with an overview
of the actions taken by the SCC to implement some of the recommendations
contained in the two consultant reports:
- Institution of a "strong
chairman" structure giving the chairman of the SCC a dominant role
in administrative matters affecting all SCC divisions. Under this structure,
all divisions of the SCC report to the chairman, who now serves as the
primary point of contact for all division-related administrative matters
(i.e., operations, budget, and personnel). Although the chairman will
continue to be elected annually, the traditional annual rotation of
the chairmanship is expected to continue.
- Creation of two new positions,
Counsel to the CommissionUtilities and Counsel to the CommissionBusiness
and Financial to provide a buffer between the commission and commission
staff. This action was taken in response to concerns raised in both
the GMU and Wirick reports regarding what appeared to be a lack of adequate
separation between the commissioners and SCC staff. Commissioners will
now rely on these counsel positions in non-administrative matters whenever
legal issues or facts of a technical nature are such that direct involvement
by SCC staff in formulating a commission decision must be avoided.
- Designation of individuals
as "single points of contact" for each of the primary industry
sectors. Each of these individuals is directed by the commission to
coordinate all regulatory matters and assume the lead in communicating
and encouraging the development of competitive markets involving their
respective sectors. The single points of contact are:
- Director of Communications
- Director of Energy Regulation
electric, natural gas, and water;
- Commissioner of Insurance
- Commissioner of Financial
Institutions financial industry;
- Director of Securities
and Retail Franchising investment industry;
- Clerk of Commission
business entity filings.
- In keeping with this
"regulation by industry" approach, in April 2002 the SCC
began identifying all formal cases under categories that matched
these primary industry sectors and implemented a computer-based
case management system that tracks all documents filed in each formal
case. It is anticipated that within two months, the SCC's website
will allow the general public to access every public document filed
in a case.
- Adding one attorney position
in the Office of General Counsel who will focus on the securities area,
bringing the total to two attorneys with primary responsibility in this
- Involvement of stakeholders
earlier in the process through stakeholder sessions convened by SCC
staff during the development of proposed rules or regulations. The use
of such stakeholder sessions has been successful in the development
of retail access rules for electricity and natural gas, competitive
metering and consolidated billing. Stakeholder sessions are also currently
being used in the development of default service guidelines.
- Establishment, through a
collaborative effort, of new performance standards and a remedy plan
for Verizon when providing service to Verizon's competitors through
a collaborative effort involving all stakeholders.
A discussion between members
of the joint subcommittee and SCC representatives ensued, covering a range
the SCC received any feedback on whether the new commission counsel positions
were having any impact on the perception of the ex parte separation issue?
Response: There initially
seems to be a desire to see if the arrangement works. The current Counsel
to the Commission (Utilities) indicated that though things were still
in transition, while serving in his role he has not received information
from any stakeholders or participants that the arrangement was not working.
The effect of the new positions could be measured by inviting comments
from practitioners, which, under the newly adopted strong chairman model,
could be done both formally and informally.
question remains concerning whether a commission comprised of three individuals,
where each commissioner is responsible for issues and cases in a given
subject matter area to the exclusion of the other two commissioners, was
adequate in terms of the workload and power exercised by an individual
commission member. Are individual commissioners still assigned subject
matter areas exclusive of other members?
Response: Under the strong
chairman model, the chairman would now make the decision regarding which
of the commissioners would handle a given issue or case. It was resolved
through further discussion, however, that there was nothing to prohibit
the chairman from assigning the issues and cases involving a given subject
matter to the same commissioner who handled the subject matter prior to
the change in structure.
the SCC revisited the issue of increasing the number of commissioners
to help the Commonwealth through changes that the industries under the
SCC's charge are undergoing?
Response: Such a change
is a policy issue that must be determined by the General Assembly. Most
other state commissions consist of three or five members. Other than the
GMU consultant, who thought increasing the number of commissioners was
a good idea, the SCC representative stated that he was unaware of any
other advocates for increasing the number of commissioners.
legislation passed by the General Assembly required the SCC and the Department
of Environmental Quality to enter into a memorandum of agreement to govern
their coordination of reviews of the environmental impacts of electric
Response: A final memorandum
of agreement to coordinate the review on air and water permits for the
plants was completed in late July and released in August.
the SCC taken any specific steps to improve its dialogue with the General
Response: SCC staff and
members are always available to the members of the General Assembly and
Wirick Report specifically recommended that the SCC should create rules
and procedures for the application of alternative dispute resolution.
What has the SCC had done in response to the recommendation?
Response: Rules have
been developed for the use of alternative dispute resolution involving
some telecommunication issues, and the process would attempt to resolve
issues that fell between informal and formal processes. The dispute resolution
process has not yet been used.
the Wirick and the GMU Reports discussed consumer and public relations.
Concern was expressed that comments would only be accepted by letter.
Response: There are issues
associated with receiving comments by fax, including the quality and the
lack of original signatures. The SCC official indicated that he would
take suggestions that the SCC not require comments to be in letter form
and that a form be devised on the website to ensure that correct information
is given back to the commissioners.
Chairman Norment concluded that
it would be appropriate for the joint subcommittee to receive additional
public comment from consumers, the regulated industry, and litigants who
appear before the SCC regarding how the changes made by the SCC have been
perceived and how the SCC might be improved. Delegate Morgan expressed
concern regarding the reluctance of some to come forward for fear of reprisals.
He suggested that perhaps they could contact the members individually
without having to go on the public record.
It was resolved that a portion
of the next meeting will be set aside to receive public comment and recommendations
concerning the actions taken by the SCC in response to the consultant
reports and how the SCC might be improved.
The Hon. Thomas K. Norment, Jr.
For information, contact:
Amigo R. Wade
Division of Legislative Services
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