TRILBY — Sen. Wilton Simpson has filed a bill that would make it illegal for private water companies to charge higher rates than public utilities in the same county.
Simpson, R-Trilby, titled his bill the Consumer Water Protection Act and included recommendations made last year by a state study committee on private, for-profit water and sewer utilities.
One of the major recommendations from the committee would have required for-profit utilities to go beyond the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act and meet certain secondary requirements related to the taste, color, odor and corrosiveness of drinking water.
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Lake County, served on the study committee and attempted to codify the recommendations in the 2013 session, but his bill never made it out of committee.
Simpson’s bill goes beyond what Hayes proposed because it would force private utility companies to match the rates charged by government-owned utilities in the same county.
“I don’t think it’s fair that a person on one side of the road pays $50 for water service and the person on the other side of the road has to pay $100,” Simpson said. “This is about providing clean drinking water at a fair price. This is about reducing people’s water bills in half.”
Simpson said Florida customers shouldn’t have to pay excessive water and sewer rates so private utilities can be guaranteed a 10-percent profit every year. Furthermore, he said private water companies — and even those systems owned by the Florida Government Utility Authority — should be required to lower their rates retroactively and refund the difference to their customers within 12 months.
Simpson said he’s confident he’ll be able to move the bill through the Legislature in 2014. “I think it’s a good bill, and it protects consumers,” he said. “This is not pandering - this is getting something done.”
Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano, who served on the study committee with Hays, was skeptical. He said the Florida’s utility regulations are slanted to favor the providers — not the consumers. “If there’s a way to get it done, hey, let’s rock and roll,” Mariano said. “We need it.”