Phone: 843.670.3996

2002-2004, South Carolina Statehouse Report. Published weekly during the S.C. legislative session. South Carolina Statehouse Report is a media project of The Brack Group, Charleston, S.C.

SCIway -- South Carolina Information Highway



1.21: PSC reform on the way, but when?
(Week of May 28, 2002)

MAY 24, 2002 - - Reform is coming to the state Public Service Commission. The only question is when.

You might not be familiar with the commission. But a peek at your phone bill, power bill or gas bill will remind you the state's utilities are regulated monopolies. Their rates, which generate about $7 billion in revenues annually, are set by whom? The Public Service Commission.

Just four weeks ago with elections for the seven-member commission scheduled by lawmakers for late May, there was only a little talk of PSC reform. But following the explosive May 14 release of a screening report on the 25 candidates seeking to become commissioners, calls for reform flowed like lava.

The report, issued by the screening panel of six lawmakers and four citizens, is highly critical of the commission's leadership and cozy relationships with regulated industry. Here's a sample:

"The complexity of many of the issues challenging regulated industries today has overwhelmed some of the Commissioners rather than challenging them to commit to providing leadership and the hiring of sufficient and capable staff to meet issues head on. Most troubling was the failure of the Commission to articulate and adhere to clear standards of due process and ethical behavior which would protect the public interest and not elevate the special interest."

Whew! Add to that reports of a troubling number of candidates for the $76,000-per-year job who are related to lawmakers or have marginal knowledge of what the commission does and there's a ripe environment for reform.

Proposed reforms include staggering terms of commissioners; prohibiting spouses, siblings or children of lawmakers from being PSC candidates; providing enforceable prohibitions on private discussions between commissioners and staff with officials from regulated industries; and structural reforms to better serve the public interest.

For years, there have been whispers that things at the quasi-judicial PSC weren't kosher. But legislative overseers never had any real proof. Evidence, however, came in April when a recently retired deputy consumer advocate broke the informal code of silence and complained. She testified about private discussions between regulated industries and commissioners - conversations the screening commission says are wrong and unlawful by commissioners.

With reform moving now like a speeding bullet, it's up in the air whether the 25 current candidates for the commission, including six incumbents, will face a vote by lawmakers later this month. If not, current commissioners would continue to serve until a vote next year.

Senate Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) plans to bring up a reform bill next week in Columbia. He says current PSC candidates, who have been glad-handing with lawmakers to curry favor for months in hope of their votes, may be left in the lurch because it's important to have reform before elections.

House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison (R-Columbia) agrees, but says with only two weeks left in this year's session, there might not be enough time to do comprehensive reform right.

Delayed elections might hurt some current PSC candidates, such as Dick Richardson, married to Rep. Becky Meacham-Richardson (R-Fort Mill). If reforms are put off, he might not be an eligible candidate. And that, others say, would be wrong because it would change the rules in midstream.

11/3: Use your vote wisely: a lesson
10/27: SC GOP to keep control of House
10/20: Black voters may be secret weapon
10/13: Talk is cheap; action takes courage
10/6: Creating sunshine to dampen negative ads
9/29: SC Set to be world leader in news research
9/22: SC Senate shift could be around corner
9/15: Gov's race about barbs, ads, not people
9/8: Shorfall may cause look at prison alternatives
9/2: Revitalize your patriotism by participating
8/25: S.C.'s fiscal situation could be a lot worse
8/18: State wetlands policy needed
8/11: The bully vs. the whiner
8/4: Noah's Ark approach to tax reform
7/28: Two-party system could be political outcome
7/21: State budget woes loom for 2 more years
7/14: Agencies can do better job on Internet
7/5: Thank a guardsman today for service
6/28: Hodges-Sanford race will be wild ride
6/21: Sanford-Peeler race's impact on GOP
6/14: Ethics reform needed now

More done than you'd think(1.23)
More education $ also means cuts (1.22)
PSC reform to come, but when?(1.21)



If you've got any suggestions for Statehouse Report, send information to: