News | February 15, 2017

Rural Water Utilities Win In Domestic Violence Case

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

mississippi supreme court reg new

The Mississippi Supreme Court shot down an attempt by state utility regulators to set rules for water utilities on the issue of domestic violence.

“The 5-3 ruling came in a dispute over a rule the Public Service Commission (PSC) set in 2014... The Mississippi Rural Water Association challenged the rule in Hinds County Chancery Court, and a judge sided with the state regulators,” the Associated Press recently reported.

Rural water utilities appealed that decision, and this time, a majority of justices on the state Supreme Court said the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, exceeded its statutory authority when it issued the domestic violence rule, according to The Arizona Republic.

“Championed by Commissioner Brandon Presley, the Domestic Violence Rule has allowed certified victims of domestic violence to waive their utility deposit for the first 60 days in their billing cycle. The deposit is due at the end of the 60 days,” the report said.

James Herring, attorney for the Mississippi Rural Water Association, argued that the PSC was setting the rate for the utility by imposing the rule. The PSC does not have rate-setting powers. He added that the Domestic Violence Rule was a public relations move, according to the report.

Frank Farmer, attorney with the state attorney general’s office, told the justices: “A deposit is simply not a rate," according to the report.

Five out of eight justices sided with the rural water association, arguing that the PSC’s rule “in this case has an obvious effect on utility companies’ rate-setting formulas.”

Justice Leslie King wrote the dissenting opinion, arguing, among other things, that “a deposit, based on its plain language definition, is not a rate for the sale of water.”

The Mississippi rule “was modeled after similar measures in Louisiana and Texas. The Mississippi [PSC] has said the rule won't be a burden [in the state] because few people use it in those states,” The Clarion-Ledger reported.

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