Council passes Utilities Bill

Photo credit: New York City Council.

On July 14, 2022, City Council voted to create an Office of the Public Service Advocate. The new office will receive utility customer communications, conduct outreach and represent customer interests at public hearings such as utility rate cases. For CityEarthprevious coverage of this legislation, click here.

On the eve of July 13, the Committee for Consumer and Worker Protection voted to advance the Public Services Defender Bill to the full council for a final vote. Council members Velázquez, Abreu, Farías, Krishnan, Menin and Ossé voted unanimously in favor, while Council members Bottcher, Brewer and Won were absent.

Originally sponsored by Council President Adrienne Adams, the legislation passed was significantly altered from its original form. Most notably, the Office of the Public Service Solicitor was originally intended to operate under the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP). However, DCWP representatives have already testified before the Committee that 311 utility complaints fell outside their immediate jurisdiction. The committee instead decided that the mayor should create the new office.

Although created by Mayor Adams, the amended legislation does not specify a particular agency where the Office of the Public Service Advocate is to operate. Instead, the office will be established either within a mayor’s office or within any municipal agency where the mayor already appoints the head. If established within a Mayor’s Cabinet, the cabinet director will be appointed directly by the Mayor. If established under another municipal agency, the office will be headed by the head of that agency.

The amended legislation of the Committee contains some additional changes, such as the date of entry into office of the Office. While the original text provided that the law would come into force 120 days after it was passed, the updated version set the current start date of September 1, 2023. The legal definition of “usefulness” was also tightened in committee. Cable, Internet, telephone and water customers were originally intended to be included in the Board’s scope, but the final text defines “utility” as “a service of electric, gas and steam in the city”.

Additionally, four resolutions being considered alongside the Public Services Defender Bill were all passed by City Council by voice vote. The first three called on NYS to prevent utility rate cases from exceeding a certain percentage each year, expand relief programs to help city residents struggling with utility bills and to add commissioners to the Public Service Commission, NYC by appointing two. A fourth resolution directly asked Con Ed to improve customer communication.

By: strong cassidy (Cassidy is an intern at CityLaw and a student at New York Law School, class of 2024.)

CC: Meeting declared (Int. No. 372-A, July 14, 2022)

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