House panel wants to restructure regulators
The agencies need help with staffing, Rep. Morita says
A year after passing a series of laws aimed at reshaping Hawaii's energy use patterns, lawmakers are now trying to ensure that regulatory agencies will be able to adapt.
House lawmakers are pushing a proposal to restructure the Public Utilities Commission and the Division of Consumer Advocacy by adding new positions and clarifying the duties of the regulatory agencies.
The current organization "has not kept up with recent legislative initiatives, diminishing the ability of the Public Utilities Commission to perform effectively," one of the bills states.
"Both are underresourced and understaffed," said House Energy Chairwoman Hermina Morita (D, Hanalei-Kapaa). "They do have a problem with the kind of employees that they hire.
"It's really specialized, and it doesn't fit your typical civil service job description."
The proposal is part of majority Democrats' legislative package and comes a year after the Legislature passed a package of bills known as the Hawaii Energy Strategy aimed at reducing the state's reliance on imported fossil fuels such as oil and coal.
PUC Chairman Carlito Caliboso said the agency supports the changes, saying that the commission had made similar recommendations in a report given to the Legislature in December.
The changes, he said, "are required to enable the commission to efficiently and effectively carry out its statutory duties."
The PUC also has come under criticism from some Democrats for not enforcing reporting requirements for oil companies passed by the Legislature last year. State officials have defended the agency, noting that the Legislature appropriated only $1 for the commission to carry out those duties.
Morita said the enforcement of the transparency requirements is a separate issue and that lawmakers will look to provide funding this year.
"That's our responsibility to make sure that the funding is there for that," she said.