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Brown vetoes transparency bills for troubled state utilities commission

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed on Friday a slate of bills meant to increase transparency at the California Public Utilities Commission, which has come under fire from critics for appearing too cozy with the companies it regulates.

The regulatory body has been beset by scandals after emails between the agency and Pacific Gas & Electric revealed a chummy relationship between officials including then-PUC President Michael Peevey and top utility executives.

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Among the measures approved by lawmakers were one that would have limited private communications between regulators and the entities they oversee and another that would have directed the state auditor to hire an inspector general to monitor the agency.

Other proposals would have required legislative review if the commission hired outside counsel for criminal proceedings, eased the process for to filing open meetings and public records lawsuits.

In his veto message, Brown said he supported the goals of transparency but said "taken together there are various technical and conflicting issues that make the over 50 proposed reforms unworkable.

"Some prudent prioritization is needed," Brown said, adding his office would continue to work with lawmakers and the commission to implement changes.

On the open meeting and public records lawsuits, he raised the concern that lowering the threshold for such cases could "only result in increased litigation and likely delay Commission decision-making."

Authors of the legislation said they were displeased with Brown's decision.

“I’m not as surprised as I am disappointed,” said state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who authored SB 660, which dealt with private PUC communications with utilities. 

Leno said Brown "has to understand the commission is only effective as long as it has public trust. And with all the revelations in the past year, and the ongoing criminal investigations, trust has waned.”

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.

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