The D.C. City Council tentatively adopted a measure yesterday that would give the District's People's Counsel office, which represents consumers in utility cases, greater independence in assessing utility companies for the expenses the office incurs in conducting cases.
The measure first must pass a second council vote, gain the mayor's approval and then go through a 30-day congressional review process before becoming law.
City Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At-Large), who introduced the legislation, said that the measure would keep the Public Service Commission (PSC) "out of the business of telling the People's Counsel" how to put on a case. Until now, the PSC asserted authority over the People's Counsel's assessment requests, which some utility companies have challenged, Kane said.
People's Counsel Frederick D. Dorsey called the legislation crucial.
"The assessment process is the most important aspect of the Office of the People's Counsel putting on a rate case," Dorsey said. "By manipulating that process, you can effectively interrupt the office's ability to put on a case."
Dorsey said that the PSC is the sole authority on whether or not his office gets money to conduct cases, the cost for which has ranged from $3,000 to $800,000 for a major rate case. He also said that his office has been hampered because of difficulties in obtaining funds promptly.
Under the measure passed yesterday, the PSC still could review assessments but would not be able to change them. The bill also gives the People's Counsel the right to receive information public utilities file with the PSC, the courts or other agencies. Previously, the People's Counsel's sole right to information had to pertain to investigations scheduled for formal proceedings. Under the bill, the PSC would be given the right to place conditions only on the release of confidential information.
Finally, the measure creates two separate agency funds for the deposit of assessments and provides an equal limit on funding for the PSC and the People's Counsel. Previously, the PSC assessment spending has exceeded that of the People's Counsel, Dorsey said.
In other action, the council:
*Gave final approval to a bill introduced by Council member John Wilson (D-Ward 2) that abolishes the requirement for independent corroboration of the testimony of a child victim in sex offense cases.
Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), commenting on the bill as chairman of the council's committee on human services, said the reasons for corroboration are outweighed by the need to deter sex offenses.
"The committee seriously questions whether the inclination of children . . . to fantasize or fabricate is any greater than the capacity of some adults to engage in calculated prevarication," Shackleton wrote.
*Confirmed five persons nominated by the mayor to serve on the District's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. They are: Merci L. Drake, financial program specialist for the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Government National Mortgage Association; Marlene L. Johnson, who was the chief hearing officer for the District's Office of Employee Appeals from 1981 to 1983; Harry Thomas, retired assistant press and information chief for the Department of the Interior's public affairs office; Michael S. Levy, who has served as an assistant corporation consel for the District; and Frank J. Zampatori, who has served as an ABC board commissioner since 1981.