A House bill would prohibit a public utility from taking action against a utility employee who reports wrongdoing in South Carolina.

S.C. House Bill 3614, the “Rate Payer Protection Act,” aims to hold public utilities accountable to the ratepayers, said Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, one of the main sponsors of the bill.

“It is a whistleblower protection initiative that affirmatively states that an employee of a utility is free from retribution from their employer for bringing to ORS (Office of Regulatory Staff) knowledge of illegal activity or excessive waste,” Ott said.

“It is important because we want employees to feel free and safe to bring forward knowledge of bad actors if it ever exists in the future. If there is a fear that they could lose their job by speaking out, they are far less likely to do so. This legislation would hopefully alleviate that fear,” he said.

People are also reading…

The bill impacts all utilities such as the Orangeburg Department of Public Utilities, Tri-County Electric Cooperative and other cooperatives, Dominion, Duke and Santee Cooper.

“The bill is a continuation of the reform measures we passed in the wake of V.C. Summer,” Ott said.

Santee Cooper and private partner S.C. Electric & Gas halted work about six years ago on the $9 billion expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station.

The utilities were able to fund the project by shifting the risk onto their customers using a state law that allowed utilities to raise consumers’ electricity rates to pay for nuclear construction.

The House passed the bill last year but it died in the Senate.

Ott is optimistic this year will be different.

“We got it to the Senate early this year, so I hope they see the merit of the intent and are willing to take it up,” he said.

As written, the law would protect a utility employee’s written and oral testimony to the ORS about wrongdoing if it is reported 180 days from when the employee first learns of the alleged wrongdoing.

The bill notes if a report is made to the ORS, the employing public utility must be notified as soon as practicable by the ORS.

The employee would also be protected if they give sworn testimony before House and Senate committees “regardless of when the wrongdoing allegedly occurred,” according to the proposed bill.

The bill defines wrongdoing as an action by a public utility which “results in substantial abuse, misuse, destruction, or loss of substantial public utility funds or public utility resources.”

Wrongdoing also includes breaking the law, under the bill.

The bill notes that the utility “may not dismiss, suspend from employment, demote, or decrease the compensation of an employee of a public utility because the employee files a report of wrongdoing with the Office of Regulatory Staff.”

“If the Office of Regulatory Staff determines the employee’s report is unfounded, or amounts to a mere technical violation, and is not made in good faith, the public utility may take disciplinary action including termination,” the report states.

The bill also notes that a public utility may discipline “direct line supervisory employees who retaliate against another employee for having filed a good faith report.”

The bill also notes the employee would be able to institute a nonjury civil action against the public utility if they are dismissed, demoted or receive a decrease in compensation by the utility within one a year of reporting a wrongdoing.

The bill notes the employee could sue to get their job back, plus back pay, actual damages not to exceed $15,000 and attorney fees.

“Hopefully it will never affect utility providers but I do believe that it can also be viewed as a deterrent of foul play because utility executives will know that their employees now have this protection,” Ott said.

The bill has passed the House and has now gone to the Senate, where it has been read once and sent to the Committee on Judiciary.

“We certainly do follow any legislation that may impact the DPU,” Orangeburg Department of Public Utilities Manager Warren Harley said. “In regards to this bill presented by Rep. Ott, we believe that any legislation that protects our staff is worthy of discussion.”

Tri-County Electric Cooperative CEO Chad Lowder said the cooperative supports the bill.

“I relate it back to our experience in 2018 when staff were going through some issues with the board of directors,” Lowder said. “If a bill like this was in place, it would have taken pressure off our employees and myself of the risk of losing their jobs by trying to correct some issues.”

#lee-rev-content { margin:0 -5px; } #lee-rev-content h3 { font-family: inherit!important; font-weight: 700!important; border-left: 8px solid var(–lee-blox-link-color); text-indent: 7px; font-size: 24px!important; line-height: 24px; } #lee-rev-content .rc-provider { font-family: inherit!important; } #lee-rev-content h4 { line-height: 24px!important; font-family: “serif-ds”,Times,”Times New Roman”,serif!important; margin-top: 10px!important; } @media (max-width: 991px) { #lee-rev-content h3 { font-size: 18px!important; line-height: 18px; } } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article { clear: both; background-color: #fff; color: #222; background-position: bottom; background-repeat: no-repeat; padding: 15px 0 20px; margin-bottom: 40px; border-top: 4px solid rgba(0,0,0,.8); border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0,0,0,.2); display: none; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article, #pu-email-form-daily-email-article p { font-family: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, “Segoe UI”, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif, “Apple Color Emoji”, “Segoe UI Emoji”, “Segoe UI Symbol”; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article h2 { font-size: 24px; margin: 15px 0 5px 0; font-family: “serif-ds”, Times, “Times New Roman”, serif; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article .lead { margin-bottom: 5px; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article .email-desc { font-size: 16px; line-height: 20px; margin-bottom: 5px; opacity: 0.7; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article form { padding: 10px 30px 5px 30px; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article .disclaimer { opacity: 0.5; margin-bottom: 0; line-height: 100%; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article .disclaimer a { color: #222; text-decoration: underline; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article .email-hammer { border-bottom: 3px solid #222; opacity: .5; display: inline-block; padding: 0 10px 5px 10px; margin-bottom: -5px; font-size: 16px; } @media (max-width: 991px) { #pu-email-form-daily-email-article form { padding: 10px 0 5px 0; } }

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>