(a) There is within the commission an independent Public Advocate's Office of the Public Utilities Commission to represent and advocate on behalf of the interests of public utility customers and subscribers within the jurisdiction of the commission. The goal of the office shall be to obtain the lowest possible rate for service consistent with reliable and safe service levels. For revenue allocation and rate design matters, the office shall primarily consider the interests of residential and small commercial customers.
(b) The director of the office shall be appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the Governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
The director shall annually appear before the appropriate policy committees of the Assembly and the Senate to report on the activities of the office.
(c) The director shall develop a budget for the office that shall be subject to final approval of the Department of Finance. As authorized in the approved budget, the office shall employ personnel and resources, including attorneys and other legal support staff, at a level sufficient to ensure that customer and subscriber interests are effectively represented in all significant proceedings. The office may employ experts necessary to carry out its functions. The director may appoint a lead attorney who shall represent the office, and shall report to and serve at the pleasure of the director. The lead attorney for the office shall obtain adequate legal personnel for the work to be conducted by the office from the commission's attorney appointed pursuant to Section 307 . The commission's attorney shall timely and appropriately fulfill all requests for legal personnel made by the lead attorney for the office, provided the office has sufficient moneys and positions in its budget for the services requested.
(d) The commission shall develop appropriate procedures to ensure that the existence of the office does not create a conflict of roles for any employee. The procedures shall include, but shall not be limited to, the development of a code of conduct and procedures for ensuring that advocates and their representatives on a particular case or proceeding are not advising decisionmakers on the same case or proceeding.
(e) The office may compel the production or disclosure of any information it deems necessary to perform its duties from any entity regulated by the commission, provided that any objections to any request for information shall be decided in writing by the assigned commissioner or by the president of the commission, if there is no assigned commissioner.
(f) There is hereby created the Public Utilities Commission Public Advocate's Office Account in the General Fund. Moneys from the Public Utilities Commission Utilities Reimbursement Account in the General Fund shall be transferred in the annual Budget Act to the Public Utilities Commission Public Advocate's Office Account. The funds in the Public Utilities Commission Public Advocate's Office Account shall be a budgetary program fund administered and utilized exclusively by the office in the performance of its duties as determined by the director. The director shall annually submit a staffing report containing a comparison of the staffing levels for each five-year period.
(g) On or before January 10 of each year, the office shall provide to the chairperson of the fiscal committee of each house of the Legislature and to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee all of the following information:
(1) The number of personnel years utilized during the prior year by the office.
(2) The total dollars expended by the office in the prior year, the estimated total dollars expended in the current year, and the total dollars proposed for appropriation in the following budget year.
(3) Workload standards and measures for the office.
(h) The office shall meet and confer in an informal setting with a regulated entity prior to issuing a report or pleading to the commission regarding alleged misconduct, or a violation of a law or a commission rule or order, raised by the office in a complaint. The meet and confer process shall be utilized in good faith to reach agreement on issues raised by the office regarding any regulated entity in the complaint proceeding.
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