Dragging the PSC into the light 

What you don't know about every Public Service Commission decision is that before the commissioners make it, they've got an army of utility company lobbyists vying to "help" them (and their staff) decide about rate hikes and the like.

The interference can reach absurd levels, like the 2001 motorcycle trip out west that former Commissioner Bubba McDonald took with Georgia Power executives.

"It's the same thing they do over here, except it's 10 times worse," says Rep. Mike Snow, D-Chickamauga, of the ear-bending done by utility lobbyists. "Ethically speaking, they need to stay away."

And if the General Assembly acts on legislation sponsored by Snow, that's exactly what will happen.

Snow's bill would make it illegal for representatives of any electric or gas utility company to communicate privately with members of the PSC or its staff when their rates or proposed rates are being considered.

Public Service Commissioner Bobby Baker, a Republican, says it's about time. The decisions the five-member board make have a huge impact on Georgia consumers, and in any other judicial or quasi-judicial setting in this state, private conversations outside the formal hearing process are a big no-no. All evidence should be presented in a public setting, he says.

"It's just common sense and fairness," Baker adds, noting that surrounding states have similar laws.

Will it pass? The bill does have bi-partisan support with Rep. Judy Manning, R-Marietta, signed on, but you can bet the legislators, who think utilities are constituents just as much as the voters in their district -- just with much deeper pockets -- will try to derail it.

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