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Mississippi Public Service Commission likely to experience changes as new members welcomed

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The Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson (Photo by SuperTalk Mississippi News)

With three new faces joining the Mississippi Public Service Commission, lawmakers are mulling some major changes to the agency in charge of utilities.

State Rep. Scott Bounds, a Republican who chairs the House Public Utilities Committee, said on Monday’s episode of The Gallo Show that the more drastic of two changes that could be considered would be amending state law to change commissioner positions from elected to appointed.

“I’ve always heard the conversation and chatter around the capitol that we need to do away with that election and let that be an appointed position staggered,” Bounds said, pointing to Mississippi as one of just 10 states that elect public service commissioners. “That may be a conversation.”

The northern district seat on the commission went up for grabs in January when Democrat Brandon Presley announced his bid for governor. That position will soon be filled by outgoing Republican State Rep. Chris Brown. In the southern district, Nelson Wayne Carr unseated Dane Maxwell in the GOP primary before going unopposed in the general election.

The final shift in leadership came in the central district with De’Keither Stamps, another current lawmaker, winning a rematch against incumbent Republican Brent Bailey in a close race on Nov. 7. Even though Bailey began the process of ballot box examinations, the one-term commissioner has accepted defeat, confirming that he will not be challenging the results of the election.

During this year’s campaign cycle, a lot of hubbub was created by Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and Stamps as they accused their opponents of Presley and Bailey, respectively, of accepting illegal contributions from public utility providers.

While both departing commissioners denied the allegations and maintained they had not violated state law, Bounds said that it is up to the legislature to clear the air and provide an explicit definition of what a public utility is – especially in terms of wind and solar providers – in order to properly lay out what contributions are illegal to accept.

“It’s a very broad statute. It doesn’t mention solar. It doesn’t mention wind or anything like that, but it does mention gas and electric companies,” Bounds said. “That being an issue this past election cycle, I think we probably need to tighten that up a little bit as to what an electric company really is.”

Bounds is also hopeful that the new commissioners will retain the bulk of staff serving under outgoing position holders to weather the storm of adjusting to the seismic change at the top of the commission. The 2024 session is set to begin on Jan. 2.

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