Jan. 15, 2024

Legislative Update
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Legislative update

The way you pay your utility bills, and the future of utility rates, may be at risk with this pending legislation.

Currently the House of Representatives is being divided by divisive political maneuvers aimed at obstructing the convening of our General Assembly for crucial votes on the people's business. If you missed my thoughts on this matter, you can read about them here. Despite these challenges, I wrote to you all that I am committed to sustaining our efforts and advocating for my constituents who feel captive to utility companies. This week, I will be in Harrisburg participating in public hearings regarding proposed changes to "Chapter 14,” a bill enacted in 2004 that governs how utility companies can handle debt collection.

Regulated utility companies supply most Pennsylvanians with services like natural gas, electricity and water. Here's a rundown of the powers they lost/gained under Chapter 14:

Payment Plans for Customers
  •   Before Chapter 14, customers could contact the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to arrange payment plans for overdue bills.
  •   Chapter 14 restricts the PUC from setting up payment plans for customers and allows only one payment plan for all other customers.
  •   Customers must now arrange payment plans directly with their utility, and the utility can deny a new plan if the customer has previously failed to make payments.

Cash Deposits for New Customers
  •   Prior to Chapter 14, cash deposits were allowed under more limited circumstances, and applicants could demonstrate they were not credit risks.
  •   Chapter 14 grants utilities broader authority to demand cash deposits from new customers deemed credit risks.

Notification of Service Termination
  •   Before Chapter 14, utilities had to personally contact customers three days before shutting off their service.
  •   Chapter 14 reduces the notification level, requiring a 10-day notice before termination, with an attempt to contact the customer three days before termination.
  •   Merely calling the customer without leaving a message is considered a satisfactory attempt at contact under the law.

Responsibility for Outstanding Bills
  •   Chapter 14 introduces a significant change by holding all adult members of a household responsible for unpaid utility bills.
  •   Previously, only the resident whose name was on the bill was considered liable for any unpaid balance.
  •   Today, any adult associated with the mortgage, deed, lease or residence can be held accountable for unpaid bills by a utility company.

Why are we talking about this now? With or without upcoming Harrisburg voting days scheduled, Chapter 14 expires at the end of this fiscal year. If not reauthorized by the State Legislature, the changes will go back to the way they were pre-Chapter 14 in 2004.

As we all know, utility companies don’t eat the cost of when people do not pay their bills. Those subsidies and assistance get pushed into rates that all customers pay.

No votes on proposed changes will be cast at this time; however, these hearings will serve as a platform for both information, and potentially misinformation, to be shared.

My primary focus will be safeguarding the choices available to individuals with fixed incomes or those managing paycheck-to-paycheck households. Simultaneously, I am committed to ensuring that those who diligently pay their bills on time are not unfairly burdened by additional responsibilities and subjected to rate increases.

On Tuesday, Feb. 6, I will be hosting my very first telephone town hall. Telephone town halls work like in-person town halls, but you don’t have to leave your home. You can ask questions or simply listen to the discussion. If we have your number on file, you will receive a call shortly before 5:30 p.m. asking you to join. Other ways to participate are to call 1-877-229-8493 and use ID Code 122147. You can also follow along online at this link.

If you are unsure whether your phone number is on file, call my office.