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Stray Voltage bill would exempt power suppliers from damages

Aug. 1, 2013 | 0 comments

A bill being considered at the state Capitol would provide an exemption from civil liability to an electric service provider for damage to an animal, an individual or property cause by the transmission, distribution or sale of electric energy by that provider.

Assembly Bill 257 - what many are calling the "stray voltage" bill - was introduced June 28 by a group of GOP lawmakers and was referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee. No hearing has yet been scheduled.

Several groups have lined up against the measure including Wisconsin Farmers Union, Wisconsin Association for Justice, the Coalition for Wisconsin Environmental Stewardship and Wisconsin Farm Bureau.

Farm Bureau spokesman Casey Langan said his organization had a member-directed policy on the books before this bill was introduced that opposes granting immunity to electric service providers.

The bill was introduced by Reps. Mark Honadel (R-Milwaukee), David Craig (R-Big Bend), Mary Czaja (R-Irma), Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield), Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), John Klenke (R-Green Bay), Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), Tom Larson (R-Colfax), Dan Le Mahieu (R-Cascade), John Nygren (R-Marinette), Joe Sanfelippo (R-Oshkosh), Jeff Schraa (R-Greendale), Thomas Weatherston (R-Racine) with Senate co-sponsors Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) and Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay.)

After signing on as a co-sponsor Klenke withdrew his sponsorship of the bill last week.

Groups that have registered their support of the bill include Cooperative Network, Dairyland Power Cooperative, Wisconsin Energy Corporation, Wisconsin Public Service Corporation and Wisconsin Utilities Association.

This bill provides an exemption from civil liability to an electric service provider - including public utilities, cooperatives and proprietary companies - for damage to an animal, an individual, or property caused by the transmission, distribution, or sale of electric energy by that provider.

For years farmers, especially those with dairy herds, have experienced stray voltage in the state. Some have sued their power companies to get financial compensation for the damage to their animals and their livelihood caused by the effect of voltage on their cows.

Several cases ended up in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

To attain the exemption under this bill, the provider must prove by the legal definition of "clear and convincing evidence" that the electric facilities owned by the provider and providing service to the location of the alleged damage are operated and maintained in compliance with all applicable engineering and safety standards.

Under the bill, a provider may not avoid liability for damage to an animal, an individual, or property if the damage is caused by reckless, wanton, or willful acts or omissions or by intentional misconduct.

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