By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Following questions about the residency status of Laura Olton, Senate president Dominick Ruggerio decided to halt the nomination of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s candidate for the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
“It would be premature to conduct an advice and consent hearing on the appointment of Laura Olton to the PUC while she is not a qualified elector of this state as required by statute,” Ruggerio wrote in a statement. “Therefore, the Senate Environment & Agriculture Committee will not be scheduling a hearing on her appointment prior to the conclusion of the regular Senate session.”
Olton, a resident of Wellesley, Mass., must be a registered voter, or elector, in Rhode Island to sit on the PUC, a job that comes with a $132,727 annual salary.
Ruggerio’s statement came out after the Providence Journal reported that Olton had registered to vote in Barrington using an address that belonged to a cousin. The cousin told the Journal that Olton would be living with her until she found a permanent residence.
Olton, however, wouldn’t be an official voter in Barrington until July 17. The General Assembly, meanwhile, intends to wrap up the 2019 legislative session by June 28.
If approved, Olton would replace PUC chairwoman Margaret Curran, who wasn’t offered reappointment by Raimondo after her first six-year term expired. Curran was appointed by former Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Curran will serve as chair of the three-member board until Olton or another candidate is approved by the Senate.
Olton’s nomination was announced June 3, but here name never appeared on an agenda for a Senate committee that would vet the nomination. Opposition groups spoke against her nomination because of her work as an attorney for National Grid. As a possible ally for the utility, she is seen as favoring matters before the PUC such as utility rate increases.