Legislation to Allow Out-of-State Companies to Purchase Water & Sewer Utilities Advances

A bill (AB 554/SB 432) that creates a process for out-of-state utility companies to purchase or lease sewer utilities in Wisconsin is advancing through the legislature. Representative Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) and Senator Frank Lasee (R-De Pere) introduced the legislation in December.

The Assembly passed AB 554 on a voice vote in January. Last week, the Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Public Works and Military Affairs passed AB 554 with a vote of 3-2, along party lines.

Under current law, if a municipality seeks to sell or lease any utility, the municipality must first pass a resolution that is submitted to the Public Service Commission (PSC) for review. The PSC sets the price and terms for the transaction. This information is included in the notice for a mandatory referendum that is held for a vote in the municipality.

AB 554 creates a new process for the sale or lease of water utilities. Under the new process, a referendum would only occur if the citizens request a referendum by petition and meet the signature and timeframe thresholds set under the bill. In addition, even if a referendum moves forward, it is done before the PSC sets the price and terms.

In the original version of AB 554, the municipality had 30 days to issue the petition and obtain 25 percent of the votes cast in the municipality for governor in the last election. The Assembly adopted and passed an amendment that extended the time period to 60 days and lowered the threshold to 10 percent of the votes cast for governor in the last election, to trigger a referendum.

AB 554 is available for scheduling in the Senate. The Senate has not scheduled the bill for a floor vote.