Between federal and state bills in its nine-state service area, Basin Electric is following about 800 bills this legislative session. From human resources and health care to transmission, taxes, and wind turbines, it takes a team of four legislative representatives on Basin Electric’s government relations team to keep tabs on any law on the state or national level that could affect the cooperative.
One of the members of this team is Chris VandeVenter.
While Chris says a typical day in his professional life is “just sitting at his desk,” it is certainly not that simple. He reads every bill that gets introduced, flagging each one that could be relevant to Basin Electric. After these bills are flagged, he and the other legislative representatives meet with senior staff in each department to determine whether or not the bills are important enough to follow. If they are, they are divided into two tiers – important enough to weigh in on, or just keep track to see what happens. If a bill falls into the first category, the government relations team often writes and delivers testimony before the various legislative committees.
Of the 800 bills the team follows, only a couple dozen require testimony, and only a couple are Basin Electric-sponsored bills. “If we determine there is a gap in state law that could affect Basin Electric, cooperatives or the utility industry at-large, we will meet with state legislators and agency officials to determine a change is warranted, and if so, work with them to find someone to sponsor a bill in the legislature,” he says.
Chris and the team also keep an eye on bills outside of Basin Electric’s service area to see if trends develop that could affect the cooperative. “New York and California are big environmental states so we need to keep tabs on what they’re doing. And it’s interesting to see what other states are doing in regard to things like the Clean Power Plan. If patterns start to emerge, we need to be aware of them, because it could eventually impact us,” he says.
Chris says he loves his job because he is a self-proclaimed “information junkie,” and the sheer amount of information that comes across his desk is astounding. He also loves to see the legislative process at work. And, he’s very intrigued by what he calls “the news of the weird.”
“There are a lot of bills that are truly bizarre,” he says. “One of the strangest bills I’ve ever come across was just last month. In Illinois, the state has declared October 2017 ‘Zombie Preparedness Month.’ The impetus isn’t that there will likely be a zombie apocalypse, but rather that citizens should prepare for natural disasters by stockpiling food and other supplies for a few days,” he says.
Whether it is poring over a bill line by line, advising senior staff about the possible impacts a bill in another state could have on Basin Electric, or coming across a bill that piques his interest, Chris VandeVenter’s day is far from boring. He and the other members of the government relations team provide a valuable service to the staff and members of Basin Electric.