The House State Affairs Committee considered the first bill of the still-young 2016 legislative session Wednesday and quickly showed the proposal the exit.
The legislation, sponsored by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, would have jacked up safety violation fines for pipeline companies by 4,900 percent. In raw dollars, the bill would have taken daily fines from $2,000 to $100,000, and increased the total fine cap from $2,000 to $1 million.
PUC Commissioner Paul Kjellander said the state needs to raise the fine to qualify for more federal grant money, and to prepare for a public relations battle in case of a pipeline catastrophe.
Kjellander said annual pipeline safety plan reviews conducted by the federal government give Idaho high marks in all areas except the fining authority. That, he said, means Idaho loses out on some federal cash.
“For the past few years, we’ve been docked for what they consider to be woefully inadequate prepared fining levels,” he explained. “The result is we don’t get all the federal pipeline safety funding we would otherwise be eligible for.”
The amount of lost federal cash? About $4,000 a year, he stated.
Additionally, Kjellander suggested the low fining levels might cause public relations issues if a pipeline-related disaster were to hit the Gem State.
“The real issue rests with the public safety considerations and perception Idaho is lax,” he told the panel.
The PUC has never levied a fine, he added, but would do so in the case of “gross negligence associated with a major tragic event.”
Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, quickly moved to kill the plan. He criticized the proposal as unnecessary for public safety.
“I feel like, as it’s been said here, we’re just doing this to look good instead of for a purpose,” Palmer said. “I think that if we’re going to start fining people at a huge amount, we better have a good purpose behind it, not just for how it looks to people who think we are not dinging people enough.”
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, tried to save the plan with a substitute motion to send the bill to a full hearing.
Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Soda Springs, aligned with Democrats on that motion, telling colleagues they should examine the proposal.
“I’m not afraid of a hearing,” he said. “I think we ought to hear things out and see if we are really justified in passing this or not.”
The panel rejected Wintrow’s motion on a 11-to-6 vote. Andrus and Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, sided with Democrats to support the motion.
The committee then killed the bill on a voice vote.
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