RESOLUTION IN OPPOSITION TO SB 689 OR SIMILAR LEGISLATION, RELATING TO CUSTOMER PROTECTIONS CONTAINED IN THE PUBLIC UTILITY CODE AND THE PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION (PUC)'S CUSTOMER SERVICE REGULATIONS

WHEREAS, Pennsylvania Senate Bill No. 689 contains in Article XXVIII-D amendments
("Amendments") which will impair existing customer protections contained in the Public Utility Code and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC)'s customer service regulations (known as "Chapter 56");
 
WHEREAS,  SB 689 was before the Senate for concurrence at the close of the last legislative session, but after a letter of opposition from Governor Rendell, was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Nominations;
 
WHEREAS, the PUC, which is charged with balancing the interests of customers in reasonable service standards against the financial interests of utilities, has publicly stated that the PUC's financial statistics concerning Pennsylvania public utilities "clearly show that the regulations, when followed correctly, do not impede a utility's ability to collect on accounts" (Tom Charles, PUC Manager of Communications, Philadelphia Daily News, May 19, 2004);
 
WHEREAS, contrary to existing regulations, the Amendments would allow public utilities to terminate for non-payment, without specific PUC authorization, heat related utility service  throughout the winter months for all residential households with gross incomes over 150% of the Federal Poverty Level ($1,165 gross income per month for one person) including households containing the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled, children aged under 12, and hundreds of thousands of working poor households; 
 
WHEREAS, termination of utility service to such households under winter conditions will jeopardize health and safety and cause loss of life;
 
WHEREAS, the Amendments would alter existing regulations which provide a flexible emergency response for customers who are threatened with service termination or whose service has been terminated, in situations where a household member is seriously ill or has a condition which would be aggravated by service termination, and instead substitute a cumbersome procedure unsuited for emergencies;
 
WHEREAS, contrary to existing regulations, the Amendments would allow utilities to require that customers whose service has been terminated for non-payment pay up-front, before restoration of service, the sum of the full outstanding balance due, a deposit of twice the average monthly bill and a restoration fee - without regard to the ability of the household to afford such terms, and the likely consequence that many households will be required to go for weeks without utility service;
 
WHEREAS, contrary to existing regulations, all new customers and applicants for service will be required to pay a deposit equal to twice the average monthly bill, regardless of their credit-worthiness, before utility service will be provided;
 
WHEREAS, contrary to existing regulations, customers, including the poor and working poor, who are trying to comply with payment agreements, will lose the right to obtain modification of those agreements and retain service when through no fault of their own, they experience unanticipated decreases in income or increases in necessary household and medical expenses;
 
WHEREAS, contrary to existing regulations, the Amendments would allow utilities to hold all adult household members responsible for a bill in the name of the customer of record, with the result that a utility would be authorized to refuse service to an applicant for service unless that person paid for another person's delinquent bill; 
 
WHEREAS, the Amendments would authorize a utility to require a battered spouse to pay for the bill of an abuser spouse as a condition of obtaining utility service;
 
WHEREAS, contrary to existing regulations, customers whose service has been terminated will lose their right to obtain PUC review by means of an informal complaint of the reasonableness of the financial terms offered by a utility as a condition for restoration of service; 
 
WHEREAS, contrary to existing regulations, which do not require filing fees for customers filing formal complaints with the PUC concerning residential customer service, the Amendments provide for a $40 filing fee, which will discourage or prevent customers from exercising their legal rights;
 
WHEREAS, these extensive Amendments will change decades of law and regulation and will cause increased loss of utility service to the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, the elderly, the handicapped and the poor and make it more difficult for households with limited financial resources whose service has been terminated to obtain restoration of service;
 
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Philadelphia Bar Association opposes the enactment of SB 689 as amended by Article XXVIII-D, or similar legislation.
 
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Chancellor or his designee, is authorized to take all necessary steps, including contacting the Governor and the appropriate members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate, regarding this Association's opposition for this or similar legislation.
 
PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: SEPTEMBER 30, 2004