On December 19, 2014, Governor Kasich signed into law Amended Substitute Senate Bill 378, an act that for the first time enforces Ohio's underground utility damage prevention law. Beginning January 1, 2016, all "excavators" are subject to the law's enforcement provisions. An "excavator" is anyone who moves soil, rock, or other material in order to penetrate the earth ("excavate") to any depth, for any reason, with any hand or mechanical tool. Excavators will have to register with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and pay an annual registration fee not to exceed $50. The law contains significant fines for not registering and other acts of non–compliance. The act, along with a summary, analysis, and fiscal analysis, can be read at http://www.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=130_SB_378.
Highlights of the Law (adapted from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission)
• The PUCO will enforce Ohio's underground utility damage prevention law, assisted by a 17–member Underground Technical Committee (UTC).
• The UTC is composed of 17 Governor– or General Assembly–appointed members, the majority of whom are excavators or representatives of underground utility industries.
• A person with duties and obligations under the law, and who is directly involved with or impacted by an alleged compliance failure of another person, can file a complaint against the person with the PUCO.
• Requires the UTC to review each complaint, and recommend a fine or other penalty, or request an administrative hearing with the PUCO if the UTC believes harsher fines or penalties are warranted, or determine no enforcement action should be taken.
• Requires, with some exceptions, the PUCO to impose the UTC's recommended fines and penalties.
• Fines for the first compliance failure may be up to $2,500. Fines for subsequent compliance failures may be up to $5,000.
• The UTC may designate a person as a "persistent noncomplier." The fine imposed on a persistent noncomplier may be up to $10,000.
• Requires that a person with a permit for excavation from the state or a local government to comply with the law.
• Requires excavators to register with the PUCO and pay an annual registration fee not exceeding $50.
• Failure to register will result in a fine not exceeding $2,500.
• Requires the registration fee and fines for failure to pay the registration fee to be deposited in the Underground Facilities Protection Administrative Fund, to be used to fund the new enforcement process.
• Creates an Underground Utility Damage Prevention Grant Program funded by compliance-failure fines, to be used for excavation safety training and education.
• Requires the PUCO, in consultation with the UTC, to adopt rules to enforce the law.
The Ohio Archaeological Council is planning an educational session on the revised law at its spring membership meeting on May 1 at the Spring Hollow Lodge, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville (Franklin County), Ohio. The program on protecting underground utilities will be from 10 to 11 a.m. Details are forthcoming.