IURPA News – Keep your revenue protection laws in order

Restructuring in the USA continues, and indeed has led to a flurry of acquisitions that have combined utilities and made them part of larger organisations. Many revenue protection entities are now operating on a multi-state level, where state laws concerning energy theft may vary widely. Additionally, changes in existing laws’ language may be needed because of the new participants in the marketplace, while in other areas existing laws may be inadequate.

As revenue protection professionals it is important that we keep abreast of our laws and make changes whenever the need arises. The importance of criminal laws concerning energy theft is self evident to those who have the opportunity to use them. Good theft laws expedite the recovery process and keep costs to a minimum. For those who do not have the option of using the criminal process, the civil process may prove quite different.

Until the mid 1990s revenue protection in Connecticut operated primarily in the civil arena, as existing criminal statutes were inadequate. It was almost impossible to have an individual arrested for theft of service, as the ‘smoking gun’ principle was needed before prosecutors felt comfortable with a case.

Changing state law is not the easiest thing to do – but with a lot of help and a little tenacity it isn’t impossible. In the early 1990s I set out to make such changes in Connecticut. The first hurdle was to get on the ‘legislative issues’ agenda for the upcoming legislative session. This involved submitting a proposal describing the issue along with a brief explanation of its impact and the modified language showing additions and deletions in the current law. Within this language was a presumptive clause that ‘presumed’ the customer receiving the service was guilty of the theft, effectively eliminating the necessity of catching the theft in progress.

It is important to obtain support from both one’s own company and from other utilities within the state to bring the proposal to the next step. Liaison with other utilities provides an opportunity for them to include appropriate language and presents unanimity amongst the participating utilities.

At the third attempt the proposal was placed on the agenda and a meeting was held with the senator sponsoring the bill to provide him with a better understanding of the issue.

The process in Connecticut is as follows.

  • The bill goes to the appropriate joint standing committee (in our case the judiciary committee) where it may be drafted in legal language, combined with other bills, referred to another committee, rewritten as a new ‘raised’ bill or fail.
  • If the bill is considered, the committee holds a public hearing. Gathering support from other utilities to provide testimony is critical to this process. The next step is testifying in front of the committee.
  • If other committees (energy, appropriations, general law etc.) are involved in reviewing the bill, it passes from the judiciary committee through the house where the bill originated to the other committees in a specific order. The bill can be altered each time it is reviewed by a committee.
  • The bill then returns to the house of origin. If it originates in the House of Representatives it is discussed and sometimes amended before it is voted on. Should the bill pass the vote in the House it is sent to the Senate to undergo the same process. This practice is reversed if the bill originates in the Senate; it can pass between the houses twice with amendments. If the House and Senate agree, the bill is sent to the governor; otherwise it is sent to a joint conference committee. If the conference committee reaches an agreement, a report is sent to both houses. If one or both houses reject the changes, the bill fails. If both houses pass the bill, it is sent to the governor.
  • The governor can veto the bill, sign it or not sign it. If he vetoes the bill it returns to the originating house. Both houses can reconsider vetoed bills.
  • The bill can become law if –
  • the governor signs it;
  • the governor fails to sign within 5 days during the legislative session or 15 days after adjournment;
  • The vetoed bill is repassed in each house by a 2/3 vote of the elected membership.

Confused? Discouraged? Don’t be!

In 1994 I made my first trip to the legislature to testify. I’m pleased to say that the bill did not die. It was changed and what came out of it was a better definition of utility theft. The presumptive clause did not survive the process, however, and was omitted. In 1995 the bill became law and was directed at theft of service for profit or economic gain, but a law addressing common utility theft was still sorely needed.

In the summer of 1995 I was again placed on the legislative issues list. This time there was a new sponsor, a new judiciary committee and a new outlook on utility theft. The Connecticut law was drafted as part of the larceny statute, with the severity of the penalty tied to the dollar value of the crime, as in any other common theft. In 1996 the bill became law and has had a profound impact on revenue protection efforts in Connecticut.

What started in 1991 took five years and involved many people. Revenue protection professionals from surrounding states provided information on their laws that helped frame the Connecticut law. Electricity, gas, telephone and cable companies provided their support and testimony. Just two years of testimony is not bad, compared to some other states where five or more years of testimony occurred before a theft bill was passed.

I urge those who wish to make changes to their laws not to be discouraged. Gather your information and support, and keep showing up.

Good luck!