WILSON RING, Associated Press

MONTPELIER -- One of the first acts of the 2014 Legislature will be to give final passage to a bill that would give consumers and small businesses more influence in utility regulation cases heard by the Public Service Board, legislative leaders said Monday on the eve of the opening of the 2014 session.

During last year’s legislative session, AARP Vermont worked with Vermont’s Department of Public Service and legislative leaders to ensure that the public’s voice is heard in front of the board that regulates utility issues, such as rates and the construction for renewable energy projects such as wind farms.

"I think it’s a great opportunity to do a better job for people who haven’t been heard from much and who don’t know a great deal about how to represent themselves," said Sen. Robert Hartwell, D-Bennington. "I think they need some help from the state and I think this bill will help us get in that direction."

The bill passed the Senate during last year’s session and legislative leaders expect the House to follow suit. The lawmakers, including House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, both attended a Monday news conference where they urged quick final passage of the bill.

Smith said there was no chance the bill would fail to pass the House.

Christopher Recchia, the commissioner of the Department of Public Service, which represents the interests of consumers before the utility regulating Public Service Board, said that it was only natural that the positions of the parties involved in contested utility regulation cases would be most closely considered by the board.

"We try to pay attention to others, but often the focus is on the parties that are present," Recchia said. "This bill clearly makes it appropriate and directs us to pay heightened attention to the fact that there are other ratepayers in the issue that need to be addressed, and we will do so."

Robert Dostis, a spokesman for the state’s largest electric utility, Green Mountain Power, said they supported the measure.

"The bill puts into law the good work of the Department of Public Service. It ensures that low-income residential and business customers receive representation on matters before the public service board," Dostis said. "In our view that is a good thing."