By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Legislation that supporters say simply will “clarify” that the elected three-member Public Service Commission would have no authority over rural water associations cleared the Legislature on Wednesday.
The bill passed the House without a dissenting vote.
In the Senate, 14 members of the 52-seat chamber voted no. The bill now goes to Gov. Phil Bryant.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said he could not understand why there would be opposition to the three-member statewide commission having oversight of water utilities.
“For a committee with accountability and transparency in its name, this is a very strange bill,” said Bryan.
Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, chair of the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee where the bill originated, said she was not trying to take authority away from the PSC, but just clarifying existing law.
In an earlier interview, Sen. Perry Lee, R-Mendenhall, said under existing law, the state Department of Health is responsible for oversight as it relates “to everything from finances to water quality to management” of rural water associations.
Collins has said a vast majority of the about 950 rural water associations supported the legislation.
The issue came up after an investigation by Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley in 2011 of the North Lee County Water Association on allegations of mismanagement. The North Lee board eventually resigned and the director pleaded guilty to lying about federal water reports.
The bill passed Wednesday included language inserted by House Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Chair Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, to require rural water associations’ meetings to be open to their customers and to require that customers receive notice of meetings where boards of directors are elected.
Efforts were made “to clarify” the PSC also had no authority over electric power associations, but that language was rejected by the House.