Jun 22, 2010

Senate Democrats protect utility workers, and citizens from unauthorized utility hookups

A package of bills sponsored by Senate Democrats o prevent energy theft from dangerous unauthorized utility connections and protect utility workers when they go out to disconnect those hookups unanimously passed the Senate today.

The four-bill package aimed at protecting citizens and workers —Senate Bills 1310-1313— were sponsored by Sens. Irma Clark-Coleman, D-Detroit; Tupac A. Hunter, D-Detroit; Dennis Olshove, D-Warren; and Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit.

“Unauthorized utility connections are dangerous and can cause damage, fires, and even the loss of lives,” Hunter said. “These bills will help protect citizens and utilities from the problems these unauthorized connections cause.”

This package caused some tension in the Republican Caucus last month when Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, blasted his caucus leader, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, with a press release accusing Bishop of playing “insider political games” that “put Michigan lives at risk” after Bishop referred the package to the Judiciary Committee instead of Patterson’s committee - the Energy Policy and Public Utilities Committee - where preliminary work had been done.

SB 1310, sponsored by Hunter, would require a utility to use a best practices approach to stopping theft and the unauthorized use of service. In the event of unauthorized use, a customer would be required to provide proof of residence or property ownership and payment of damages and any past due charges before service is re-established.

SB 1311, sponsored by Thomas - the Senate Democratic Floor Leader - would make it a crime for a person to attempt to sell or transfer electricity or natural gas with penalties of up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines or both. SB 1312, sponsored by Olshove, sets sentencing guidelines for energy theft.

“Whether it’s a car, money or energy, we cannot allow people to take what’s not theirs,” Olshove said. “We need to take strong measures to protect our energy resources, the people who legally pay for them, and the workers charged with distributing them.

Clark-Coleman sponsored SB 1313, which would create penalties for an assault on a utility worker while performing duties ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony with a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a $10,000 fine for causing a worker’s death.

“It is our job to protect the public and those whose jobs are essential to everyday life,” Clark-Coleman said. "Utility workers should have the same protections as postal workers and others who directly serve the community.”

The package now goes to the House Committee on Energy and Technology.

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