THE DISTRICTS Public Service Commission is trying to draft a bill of rights, and the results so far would make a self-respecting Founding Father wince. The commission's purpose is laudable: to spell out the kinds of services and billing practices residents can expect from the local utilities. The problem lies in the spelling, or the wording, that is being considered. Try this.
The credit of a customer shall be established and the deposit and accrued interest shall be refunded promptly by the utility upon satisfactory payment by the customer of all proper charges for utility service for a period of (12) successive months in the case of a residential gas or electric customer or (9) months in the case of a residential telephone customer. For purposes of this subrule, payment is satisfactory if the customer's account has not reached a delinquent status (as defined in Rule 1-2(5)) on more than one occasion within such period.
Surely there is a simpler way to say that a customer shall get his deposit back, with interest, if he pays what he owes on time all but once in a year -- or, for phone bills, nine months. And surely each utility bill does not have to include "the address and telephone number of the utility designating where the customer may initiate an inquiry or complaint regarding the bill as rendered or the service provided by the utility." Wouldn't it be enough if each bill told the customer where to write or call with questions or complaints?
We will grant that the framers of the original Bill of Rights had some advantages. They did not have to define "cycle billing" or "fuel clause," or decide whether customers should get a day of grace if bills fall due on holidays. And we'll stipulate, too, that the Founding Fathers did leave us with some terms, such as "unreasonable searches and seizures," that have kept generations of lawyers fully employed.
Even so, it is sad to see legalese and gobbledygook pollute a document that is so well-intentioned -- and that, furthermore, is meant to help the average citizen. There's no need to despair quite yet; the commission has received lots of comments about the draft and is going to be revising it. Along the way, we hope it will be translated into something approximating English. Rules should be easy for people to understand: That ought to be Article I.