State Senate Democrats this morning held a press conference to highlight their proposals for turning the lights on faster following major storms like August’s Irene and the October 29 nor’easter.
Their ideas – establishing utility performance standards and related penalties, improving tree maintenance and upgrading infrastructure – mirror the various concepts lawmakers have been floating all winter after it took Connecticut Light & Power so long to restore electricity after the August and October storms.
That now brings the total number of Democratic political entities vying for credit for improving storm response in Connecticut to three.
Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has already submitted his own storm response legislation.
And House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, a congressional candidate in the 5th District, along with Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, an energy committee chair, have pledged to pursue a variety of reforms.
Today’s press conference was hosted by Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, Nardello’s energy cochair.
I asked Fonfara if the fact the Senate Democrats submitted a separate plan from Malloy’s, coupled with the absence of any House members at today’s press conference, was an indication of divisions over how to proceed. Capitol observers also know it is not uncommon for the Senate and House leaders of the energy committee to be at odds over major reform initiatives.
“There is absolutely no division. We’re in lockstep working with the governor on this. My cochair has spoken extensively on this. This is the Senate Democrats’ proposal. These are not issues that are controversial in the sense there is partisan separation between houses, between the administration and the legislature,” Fonfara said.
But some additional comments by Fonfara indicate before the legislative session is over we’ll see a debate among lawmakers over how tough the state should be on utility companies.
“I don’t think most people in this state are interested in penalizing the utilities for the sake of penalizing them,” Fonfara said.
Nardello and Donovan, for example, wanted to explore not only fining utilities for poor performance but tying executive pay to performance.
Fonfara said everything is on the table, but added, “The one thing you don’t want to do is to have such a chilling effect that you see a negative impact on who wants to work here in our state … For every action their will be a reaction.”