JACKSON – When Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley of Nettleton is asked why Mississippi ratepayers need a Bill of Rights, he says one need only to step out into sweltering Mississippi heat to get an answer.
One of the rights, approved unanimously Tuesday by the three-member Public Service Commission, prevents a utility company from disconnecting service for any reason, including failure to pay, during an excessive heat warning issued by the National Weather Service. Similar protections are granted during freeze warnings.
“It’s just humane treatment,” said Presley, chair of the commission, which regulates most electric, gas, water and sewer utilities.
Most municipal power companies aren’t regulated by the PSC, but Presley said he hopes they adhere to the bill of rights.
He said 22 other states have similar bills of rights. He said he has been working for more than 11⁄2 years to pass the Mississippi Ratepayers’ Bill of Rights.
“This is an historic achievement for the people of Mississippi,” Presley said.
He added, “The purpose of this is not to allow someone to skirt their responsibilities or to allow someone not to pay their bill, but to ensure everyone is treated fairly and humanely.”
The Bill of Rights, which takes effect Sept. 4, covers a variety of circumstances. For instance, a utility company cannot cut off service for 60 days if a customer provides written notice from a physician saying the discontinuation could be life-threatening.
Plus, service could not be discontinued on any holiday or weekend where the customer could not pay the bill. The customer has the right to a concise explanation of terms of service and the customer has the right to “an independent administrative process” to quickly settle disputes. A customer has the right to participate in any PSC hearing.
In total, the document contains 21 rights.
Presley said some items he supported were removed from the Bill of Rights by the other commissioners. He had proposed ensuring the utility company provide a person for a customer to talk to when calling to voice a complaint.
Presley said the other two commissioners pledged to work with him to pass a version of that provision.
Utility companies could be subject to a $5,000-per-day fine for violating the bill.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Full list online
– To see the PSC’s full Bill of Rights, go to www.psc.state.ms.us.
Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal