Rural water transparency, accountability bills die

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JACKSON – Bills filed by Lee County legislators at least partially in response to troubles surrounding the North Lee County Water Association died Tuesday.
Tuesday was the deadline to pass legislation out of committee in the originating chamber. Legislation to place rural water associations under the Open Meetings Act, filed in the House by Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, and in the Senate by Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, died, as did a proposal by Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, to place the rural water associations under the regulatory authority of the Public Service Commission.
“It is not all water associations having problems,” Collins said. “We just wanted to ensure that standards are in place …. This was just to ensure every association operates in a transparent way.”
None of the bills were called up for consideration by committee chairs.
The bills were of particular interest to the Lee County legislators because of allegations of misconduct against the then-North Lee County Water Association board of directors. The allegations, which first surfaced last year in stories by the Daily Journal, included instances of association employees doing work on private property and of improper testing of water.
The allegations are still under investigation.
Hundreds of rural water associations operate throughout the state. They set their own rates and governance policies.
House Public Utilities Chair Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, said legislation was passed out of his committee to require management training for the associations’ boards of directors. Beckett said he is not necessarily against requiring more regulations of the associations or of requiring more public accessibility, but said he did not detect a strong desire in the Legislature to tackle the issue this session.
He said he would be willing to consider the issues in upcoming sessions. The Mississippi Rural Water Association had expressed opposition to the proposals.
Becket said he is not sure whether legislation still alive dealing with the rural water associations, such as the one requiring management training for directors, could be amended to require them to follow the open meetings laws.
Collins said she had changed her legislation “to try to accommodate” concerns by just making the associations follow the open meetings laws as it related to their members – or customers. In other words, their meetings would not be open to the general public, but to the customers of the association.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com