published Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Tennessee Regulatory Authority overhaul clears major Senate panel

NASHVILLE - The Haslam administration’s proposed overhaul of the state agency that sets rates for companies including the Tennessee American Water Co. and Chattanooga Gas passed the Senate Finance Committee today.

The 8-4 vote was along party lines, with majority Republicans voting yes and Democrats no. Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Waton, R-Hixson, voted for the proposal.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislation changes the Tennessee Regulatory Authority’s four-member, full-time board into a five-member, part-time board. The agency would also get a full-time executive director appointed by the governor and the House and Senate speakers.

Haslam said the changes are needed because the agency has fewer regulatory responsibilities since telecommunications deregulation and therefore offers opportunities for savings.

He said the executive director can conduct a “top to bottom” review of agency operations aimed at trimming costs.

Attorney Henry Walker, a former general counsel for the TRA’s predecessor and who now represents clients before the agency, argued that TRA needs full-time directors to handle its quasi-judicial rate hearings.

Walker also questioned why none of the regulated utilities has stepped forward to support the administration’s proposed changes.

“I suggest to you that not one of them thinks it’s a good idea to have the financial health of that company in the hands of a part-time board,” Walker said.

TRA Chairman Kenneth Hill, a Republican appointee, told lawmakers the agency handles responsibilities from rate regulation, to disputes between telephone companies and gas pipeline safety inspections.

Democrats say there is no need for the proposed changes. They include Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, whose wife, Sarah Kyle, is on the TRA board.

Opponents say that, because the state comptroller’s office is in the midst of a comprehensive audit, Haslam is putting the cart before the horse.

See complete story in Friday’s Times Free Press.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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