JACKSON — Mississippi regulators have approved a plan to let victims of domestic violence delay paying utility deposits for 60 days as a way to help victims move away from abusers even if they don’t have enough money to pay deposits.
The Public Service Commission voted 3-0 yesterday to approve the waiver, a month after a hearing where the proposal drew opposition. Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley and Southern District Commissioner Steve Renfroe both say the commission worked to change its proposal to account for concerns at that hearing.
“This is, I think, a very middle of the road approach, taking into consideration the comments,” said Presley, a Democrat who originally proposed the idea.
The measure will go into effect 30 days after filing with the Secretary of State’s office.
Jim Herring, a lawyer who represents both the Mississippi Rural Water Association and Madison County’s Bear Creek Water Association, said everybody was in favor of helping domestic violence victims, but his clients still believe that the commission is overstepping its jurisdiction by trying to regulate water associations.
Herring said his clients haven’t decided yet whether they will sue.
The order states that the commission is not regulating rates, saying a deposit is not the same thing as a rate. It also states that the rule doesn’t breech a ban on the PSC trying to manage the internal affairs of a utility.
“A rule temporarily postponing payment of a customer deposit in no way alters the internal governance of a utility,” the order states.
After the hearing, the commission altered the rule to require the delay only at existing service locations, meaning people couldn’t use their status to escape payments. It also requires that a domestic violence shelter certify people who are eligible.
Renfroe, who doesn’t publicly identify with a party, said commissioners will be looking out for problems.
“I would like anyone that sees an unintended consequence to come back to the commission,” he said.
Presley’s rule was modeled after similar measures in Louisiana and Texas. The Mississippi commission has said the rule won’t be a burden here because few people use it in those states.
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