Despite concerns that lawyers will fill every seat on the Wyoming Public Service Commission, a Senate committee Tuesday approved Gov. Matt Mead’s nominations for appointment to the board.
Appointments of both Robin Cooley Sessions and Bill Russell to the PSC advanced through the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.
Russell has been on the commission since November 2012, but his first term ends March 1. Sessions has never served on the PSC. She sits on the State Board of Equalization, which deals with tax issues. The PSC regulates utility companies and negotiates electrical transmission agreements between Wyoming and other states.
Sen. Cale Case (R, SD-25, Lander) who chairs the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, said he wishes Sessions had utility experience. He supported her appointment however, saying she will quickly grasp the PSC’s issues.
Sessions, a lawyer, previously worked in the Office of the Attorney General. From 2013-2014 she was Gov. Matt Mead’s special counsel. She has served on the Board of Equalization since 2015.
Both nominees still must be approved by the full Senate.
If Sessions is appointed, and Russell reappointed, all three members of the PSC will be lawyers with a history in the Attorney General’s office. Russell served as Wyoming’s Assistant Attorney General. Commissioner Kara Brighton, the third member of the PSC, started her career in the AG’s office, according to her biography on the PSC website.
“I worry somewhat that there’s all attorneys on there and no one with an economic background,” committee member Sen. Charles Scott (R, SD-30 Casper) said. The PSC considers complicated economic issues, he noted, and represents Wyoming’s interest in an attempt to get a fair deal on electrical infrastructure investment and agreements with other states.
“I’d feel better if there was somebody who was an accountant or had business experience,” he said. Scott supported Sessions’ appointment. Case echoed that sentiment, saying he hoped the commission will have a diversified background in the future.
Sessions recognized she faces a steep learning curve to understand her new post. In 25 years of practice, she said she’s never dealt with utility regulation. The real novelty for her won’t be applying the law, she said, but implementing policy.
Session said the same was true when she started at the Board of Equalization. “When I walked into this job [on the BOE] I didn’t know anything about tax structure,” she said. She anticipates getting good assistance from the PSC staff, which includes economists as well as attorneys, she said.
If the appointments are confirmed, Sessions will be replaced at the Board of Equalization by David Gruver, who is currently on contract as a staff attorney with the Legislative Service Office. Gruver was previously director of the LSO, after a long career as a staff attorney there. The State Board of Equalization is a full-time constitutional and professional board of three Wyoming citizens appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
The vote to move Sessions’ appointment to the full Senate for consideration was unanimous, according to Sen. Stephen Pappas (R, SD-7, Cheyenne.) The full Senate will most likely consider the appointments tomorrow, he said.
Scott said in the 34 years he has been a senator he has seen just a half dozen gubernatorial nominees rejected.