ACWA Testifies in Opposition of SB 222, SB 223 by ACWA Staff Apr 14, 2021 Member Submitted News ACWA staff testified with an oppose-unless-amended position on SB 222 (Dodd) and an oppose position on SB 223 (Dodd) during the April 12 Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee hearing. Representatives from a number of ACWA member agencies also testified during the hearing. The bills had originally been set for hearing on March 15, but Senator Dodd pulled the bills to allow incorporation of some amendments based on concerns raised by ACWA and other associations. While ACWA appreciated those amendments, they did not address key issues. SB 222 SB 222 would require the State Department of Community Services to create an overly broad and costly water and wastewater affordability program. ACWA staff shared three suggestions during the hearing. The first was that the Legislature and Governor Newsom should prioritize dedicating state funding from the budget surplus, separate from SB 222 and SB 223, to public water agencies to assist their customers with water debt that has accrued during the pandemic emergency. Second, staff suggested that Senator Dodd narrow the scope of the bill to a low-income rate assistance program for water and wastewater customers, and that it be designed in an efficient and effective manner. “That alone is a big lift, and the scope of the bill should be limited to that,” said ACWA Deputy Executive Director for Government Relations Cindy Tuck. Tuck also suggested that the proposal for each of thousands of public water systems to submit rate and boundary data be deleted, as the use of the information to develop the household benefit would be overly complicated and would unnecessarily drive up the administrative costs for the program. SB 222 passed out of committee 8-1 and will next be heard by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on April 29. SB 223 SB 223 would prioritize use of non-rate revenue for customer debt forgiveness over all other uses and lead to agencies having less funds available for safe drinking water projects, infrastructure repairs and more. The bill originally proposed a requirement that water agencies forgive the entire balance of a customer’s unpaid water debt. Although the author removed that proposed unconstitutional mandate, the April 5 amendments create a more round-about way to get to the same goal of mandating agencies offer debt forgiveness. In addition, SB 223 would re-write key provisions of SB 998, (Dodd, 2018), which created a one-size-fits-all statewide water service shutoff law. Water agencies began implementing that law in February 2020. However, Gov. Newsom’s Executive Order prohibiting shutoffs has suspended implementation. In its current form, the bill proposes to change several protections in the new existing law before water agencies have had an opportunity to fully implement it. During his testimony, ACWA Legislative Advocate Kris Anderson described a rewrite of SB 998 as “premature” given that public water agencies have not implemented the new existing law. His comments also addressed existing efforts by water suppliers to assist customers. “ACWA members have worked diligently with their customers who have fallen behind on payments before and since the pandemic, and will continue to do so,” Anderson said. SB 223 passed out of committee on an 11-1-2 vote and will next be heard by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on April 29. In addition to the April 12 testimony, ACWA has been working with the bills’ author and sponsors to share concerns on behalf of member agencies. ACWA drafted, with input from a working group, written amendments to both bills and submitted them to the author in February. ACWA members can access staff analyses of the bills and written amendments at www.acwa.com.